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Denmark: Dutch Requested to Allow Danish Prosecution of Suspected Somali Pirates

(Jan. 12, 2009) It was reported on January 3, 2009, that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark has contacted Dutch officials to clear Danish prosecution of five suspected Somali pirates currently being held in custody on the Danish naval ship Absalon. The suspects were seized by the Absalon on January 2, after they had taken part in an attack in the Gulf of Aden, off the coast of Somalia, against a freighter registered in the Netherlands Antilles. According to Thomas Winkler, chief of the Ministry's legal services, “the Foreign Ministry has, in accordance with agreement of the Defense Ministry, sent a message to Dutch authorities and asked them if they can prosecute the pirates. We are now awaiting a reply from the Netherlands.” (Denmark Asks Netherlands [sic] Prosecute Somali Pirates Held in Attack on Dutch Ship, POLITIKEN.DK [in Danish] (Copenhagen), Jan. 3, 2009, Open Source Center No. EUP20090104003004 & World News Connection online subscription database.)

The Absalon caught the suspected pirates after receiving a distress call from the Dutch ship. The crew had managed to repulse the attackers and set fire to their skiff with a distress signal flare, forcing them to abandon ship. The Absalon picked them up from the water and then sank the burning skiff. (Danish Vessel Detains Pirates, POLITIKEN.DK, Jan. 2, 2009, available at

The January rescue is but the latest in a series of pirate attacks thwarted by the Absalon; on November 3, during the eleventh Gulf of Aden incident handled by the navy frigate since it arrived there in mid-September, it intercepted a skiff, which subsequently sank, poised to attack a merchant vessel. The Danish naval team rescued the persons who had been on board the skiff and delivered them to the mother ship. The ship was released, however, and neither the persons originally on the skiff or on the ship were arrested, “as it has proven earlier to be problematic to hold Somalia citizens on board a Danish navy ship.” (Bent Mikkelsen, Pirates Keep Absalon Busy, 22 SHIPPING GAZETTE (Nov. 21, 2008), available at

Nevertheless, the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs contends that the set of circumstances in the current attack “is markedly different” from that of the September 17 incident involving two suspected pirate vessels, when the Absalon had to free ten detained crew members, even though they were found in possession of weapons, communications equipment, and ladders that could be used for commission of acts of piracy (Denmark Asks Netherlands [sic] Prosecute Somali Pirates Held in Attack on Dutch Ship, supra; Denmark Releases Suspected Pirates, MARINELOG, Sept. 25, 2008, available at In that incident, it had not been possible to transfer the suspects to countries in the region or to other CTF 150 nations, and the Danish authorities had also held that, “under the specific circumstances, the ten could not be prosecuted in Denmark.” (MARINELOG, supra.) By contrast, in the January 2 incident, the suspected pirates “were seized in connection with an attack on the Dutch ship, which defended itself by sending up a distress rocket,” Winckler noted, and “[t]he state having most responsibility with respect to prosecution must [be] the Netherlands, since the ship is registered in the Netherlands Antilles.” (Denmark Asks Netherlands [sic] Prosecute Somali Pirates Held in Attack on Dutch Ship, supra.)

The Absalon is part of the multinational Combined Task Force 150 (CTF 150), which “conducts Maritime Security Operations (MSO) in and around the Strait of Hormuz, Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and the Red Sea … to counter terrorism,” among other security-related activities. (Combined Task Force Thwarts Criminal Activities,, Sept. 22, 2008, Story No. NNS080922-22, available at Denmark assumed command of CTF 150 on September 15, 2008. (Denmark Assumes Command of Combined Task Force 150,, Sept. 15, 2008, Story No. NNS080915-15, available at

Denmark is also a member of the International Contact Group (ICG) on Somalia, which is scheduled to meet on January 14, 2009, in New York. The issue of prosecution of pirates is expected to be high on its agenda. The ICG reportedly includes major maritime nations, countries with naval ships in the Somalia offshore area, as well as states in the region. (Denmark Asks Netherlands [sic] Prosecute Somali Pirates Held in Attack on Dutch Ship, supra.) In another related development, on December 16, 2008, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1851, which allows the states conducting anti-piracy operations in the region to conduct land operations in Somalia. In Winkler's view, the Resolution “goes quite far in providing the possibility to pursue pirates into Somali territory. This is a new element.” (Denmark Asks Netherlands [sic] Prosecute Somali Pirates Held in Attack on Dutch Ship, supra.)