Ten suspected Somali pirates captured during the hijacking of a German cargo ship in April went on trial in Hamburg on Monday in Germany’s first modern-day piracy trial. The suspects were accused of boarding the German-flagged Taipan at gunpoint in April with the aim of demanding a ransom.
“We think we have compiled enough evidence,” said Wilhelm Moellers, spokesman for the Hamburg public prosecutor’s office. “We presented the court with 22 witnesses and a mass of material evidence, including the weapons used by the accused.”
He said the accused included seven adults and three youths who, once their ages had been determined, could be tried under juvenile law and face prison sentences of 10 years if convicted. The adults face 15-year sentences. Thomas Jung, who told reporters he was defending a 14-year-old suspect, said his client was struggling to cope with his prosecution. “He broke down in tears during every phase of the trial because he visibly could not deal with the situation,” Jung said.
The lawyer for another suspect asked for his trial to be adjourned because he may be just 13 years old, too young to be tried in court. Judge Bernd Steinmetz said it was important to establish the ages of the accused. “No child will go on trial here,” he said. The defence argued that the poverty and hardship faced by people in Somalia had to be taken into account. “Anyone who has read up a little on Somalia knows it is a very poor country where millions of people are starving and terrible hardship prevails,” defence lawyer Gabriele Heinecke said.
The defence questioned whether the correct procedure had been followed in extraditing the 10 suspects to Germany. The accused were captured by Dutch commandos on April 5 after a brief battle to free the Taipan off the Somali coast. They were taken to the Netherlands then extradited to Germany. They were the first group of modern pirates to be prosecuted in Germany and among the few to have been tried in Europe. After their capture, the European Union’s Naval Force Somalia, responsible for defending shipping, said sending pirates for trial in the country of the ship attacked was a new tactic.
Heavily-armed gangs have seized dozens of vessels in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden in recent years, but most of the pirates who have been captured have been tried in Kenya or the Seychelles.