Ten Somalis were accused by prosecutors of attacking the ship Taipan on the Indian Ocean, in Germany’s first piracy trial in four centuries.
The men captured the German container vessel, which was 530 nautical miles east of the horn of Africa, prosecutor Friederike Dopke told the court in Hamburg. They planned to kidnap the crew and seek a ransom, she said.
Somali pirates were responsible for 44 percent of the 289 piracy incidents on the world’s seas in the first nine months of 2010 and carried out 35 of the 39 ship hijackings worldwide, according to the International Maritime Bureau. The European Union in 2008 dispatched its Atalanta maritime mission to fight piracy off the coast of Somalia.
“The captain tried to escape by maneuvering the ship in a different direction,” said Dopke. “He didn’t succeed and after he shot the signal gun twice, the accused opened fire.”
The Taipan crew was able to flee to a secure room within the vessel and cut power to the engines. They were rescued after three and a half hours by Dutch navy sailors who recaptured the ship and arrested the Somalis. An Amsterdam court in June allowed their extradition to Germany.
The first evidence introduced in the trial will look at the age of one of the Somalis, who says he is 13, to see if he is old enough to stand trial in Germany. Presiding Judge Bernd Steinmetz said the court will assume he is at least the minimum age of 14 until the issue is resolved.
Prosecutors relied on a Dutch expert who said the accused is at least 15 and a German expert who found that he was already 18. His attorney Thomas Jung asked the court to drop the case against him, because the experts had failed to compare him with people from the right peer group.
Jung said it’s wrong to compare a Somali boy with an American or European of the same age. Somali teenagers may grow up faster because of the tough situation in their homeland, he said.
The trial must clarify whether it was legal under national and international law for the men to be arrested by the Dutch in open seas, put in custody in the Netherlands and then extradited to Germany, said Philipp Napp, the defense lawyer for one of the suspects.
A trial in Germany makes no sense because a conviction won’t change the causes of piracy in the Indian Ocean, said Napp, who delivered an opening statement for the whole group.
“Somalia is a country stricken by civil war since 1991,” said Napp. “We will have to look at how predatory industrial fishing by Europeans and Asians as well as dumping of toxic waste around Somali shores affected the living conditions of the accused,” he said.
All of the suspects have two attorneys who are paid for by the government. The trial is handled under rules for juveniles because some suspects are 21 or younger. While most of the accused are adults, the court said today that it may proceed in closed chambers to protect the interests of any juveniles.
None of the men has commented on the charges during the investigation, Wilhelm Moellers, a spokesman for the prosecutors, said before the trial started today.
“There has been speculation whether the accused we have before us now are really the people who went on the ship,” Moellers said. “We have no reasons to doubt that and there are no indications to that effect.”
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Aarons in London at aaarons@Bloomberg.net