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Netherlands: Trial of Somali Pirates Underway

(May 27, 2010) On May 25, 2010, the District Court of Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, began what is expected to be a five-day trial of five Somali citizens accused of “sea robbery.” (Press Release, Court of Rotterdam, Substantive Treatment of the Cygnus Case [in Dutch] (May 25, 2010), available at http://
.) This is the first trial on piracy charges of Somalis to be held in Europe. The five defendants, who were arrested last year, are alleged to have hijacked a cargo ship registered in the Netherlands Antilles. They were caught trying to force their way onto a cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden, following the sinking of their boat by a Danish vessel. The judgment will reportedly be issued in June. (Sarah Miley, Dutch Court Begins Europe's First Somali Pirate Trial, PAPERCHASE NEWSBURST, May 25, 2010, available at http://

Trials of Somali pirates are being held in a number of countries, including Yemen, where on May 18, 2010, a court sentenced six pirates to death and six others to ten years of imprisonment, and the Seychelles, where a center to prosecute pirates will be established with United Nations' sponsorship. (Id.; Trial of Alleged Somali Pirates Opens in Netherlands, BBC NEWS, May 25, 2010, available at http://
; see also Constance Johnson, Seychelles/United Nations: Piracy Prosecution Center to Be Established, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR, May 7, 2010, available at http://
.) A similar court for trying those accused of piracy has also been set up in Kenya. (Miley, supra.)

The pirates facing trial in the Netherlands have denied being pirates, claiming to have been at sea on a fishing trip. They stated that their boat's engine died, and they attempted to get help from the larger ship. One of the defendants stated, “we put our hands in the air. While we had our hands in the air, they shot at us. They attacked us.” (BBC NEWS, supra.) In response, the crew of the larger ship stated that the accused had approached rapidly and fired rifles and a rocket at the ship's bridge. (Id.) One defendant testified, however, that poverty in their native Somalia drove them to commit piracy. (Miley, supra.)

The five men could be sentenced to up to 12 years of imprisonment upon conviction. (Id.)