The Dutch military were on Wednesday transporting 10 suspected Somali pirates to Europe, where they could face trial in Germany in what would be a legal first.
On Wednesday morning, the Dutch warship Tromp arrived in the port of Djibouti, in the country of the same name. It handed over the Somali suspects, who were captured by elite Dutch marines on April 5 as they allegedly attempted to hijack the German cargo ship MS Taipan, to Dutch military police who had traveled there especially from the Netherlands.
The military police immediately took the suspects to the airport, where a DC-10 military aircraft was waiting for takeoff. The suspected pirates are expected to arrive at a military base in the Netherlands on Wednesday evening, where they will be handed over to Dutch judicial officials.
The Dutch authorities want to extradite the suspects to Germany as quickly as possible after their arrival in the Netherlands. The regional court in Hamburg has issued European arrest warrants for the men, and the suspects are expected to face trial there.
According to the Netherlands' Justice Ministry, the regional court in Amsterdam will first issue an arrest warrant against the Somalis. "It could all happen very fast, if the German authorities take over the suspects quickly," Wim de Bruin, spokesman for the Dutch public prosecutor's office, told SPIEGEL ONLINE.
The spokesman for the Hamburg public prosecutor, William Möllers, told SPIEGEL ONLINE that the Hamburg authorities would pursue the suspects' extradition once they had arrived in the Netherlands. Möllers was not, however, able to say how long the transfer might take, as the Somalis could take legal action in the Netherlands against an expedited extradition. If they do not attempt to stop the extradition, however, the men could be brought quickly to Hamburg.
A special unit of marines from the Dutch frigate Tromp had arrested the pirates on April 5 in a spectacular operation in the Gulf of Aden, about 500 miles (800 kilometers) east of Somalia. After the Somalis had boarded the MS Taipan, a helicopter fired at the ship's bridge and forced the pirates to surrender.
Not in Danger
It was one of the few cases in which the EU's Atalanta anti-piracy force, which was launched in 2008 in a bid to tackle piracy off the Somali coast, has been prepared to storm a hijacked ship. The decisive factor was that the crew of the ship, which included two Germans, had barricaded themselves into a secure room and were therefore not in danger.
The trial before Hamburg Regional Court would be a legal first. Until now, Germany had always extradited captured pirates to Kenya and put them on trial there. The Kenyan government recently announced, however, that it would no longer accept seized Somali pirates to be tried in its courts, and stopped accepting suspects at the end of last week. The European Union now wants to come to a new agreement with Nairobi on the issue.
The evidence against the pirates appears relatively strong. Shortly after the MS Taipan was stormed, a team from Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office traveled to the United Arab Emirates in order to secure evidence and to interview the crew. Unlike in previous cases, the pirates, who surrendered without a fight, were seized only after they had already boarded the ship.
Under German law, the pirates could receive prison sentences of up to five years if convicted. The German government has attached special importance to the case and quickly approved the extradition.
Piracy attacks off the Somali coast have become an increasing problem for cargo ships in recent years, and attacks are continuing despite an increased international naval presence in the waters. An improvement in the situation is not expected as long as Somalia lacks a functioning government, which it has not had for 19 years.