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Berlin hands pirates over to Kenya for trial

AFP · 8 Apr 2009, 16:40

Published: 08 Apr 2009 16:40 GMT+02:00

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The men will appear before a judge for a preliminary hearing on Thursday morning, Foreign Ministry spokesman Jens Ploetner told a regular briefing, after a German court issued arrest warrants earlier Wednesday.

"This morning (Wednesday) Kenyan prosecutors agreed in principle to take in the seven suspected pirates," Ploetner said.

The seven were picked up late last month by Greek and Spanish forces from a European anti-pirate unit off Somalia after they reportedly tried to capture a German oil tanker, the FGS Spessart, off the coast of southern Yemen on March 29.

The group was then transferred to a German frigate, which arrived in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa with the men on Wednesday, Ploetner said.

Kenyan police were on board the vessel to review the evidence against the suspects, he added.

The case of the seven men has highlighted the legal complexities arising from incidents in international waters.

A spokesman from the justice ministry in the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein said that if the court had failed to issue the warrants, "the men would have had to be released" upon arrival in Kenya.

Germany was prompted to take action after Kenya refused to guarantee it would prosecute the suspects, leading German prosecutors to ask for warrants from the regional court in the state capital Kiel.

The European Union's Atalanta flotilla, its first-ever naval operation, was launched in December with six warships and three surveillance planes to patrol pirate-infested seas near the Horn of Africa. The FGS Spessart was deployed as part of the Atalanta mission.

The justice ministry spokesman had said earlier that the pirates would not necessarily appear before a German court, noting that if Kenya opted to try the men, Germany would withdraw its own arrest warrants.

In early March, the German navy handed over nine Somalis to Kenya after capturing them as they allegedly tried to seize a freighter in the Gulf of Aden.

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The decision was based on an agreement between Kenya and the European Union that states to suspected Somali pirates detained by the Atalanta mission will be given to Kenya.

Ransom-hunting Somali pirates attacked more than 130 merchant ships in the region last year, more than double the attacks in 2007, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

The number and success rate of pirate attacks had declined slightly since the start of the year, attributed to unfavourable sea conditions and an increased foreign naval presence in the Gulf of Aden.

But on Wednesday, pirates seized a Danish-owned and US-flagged ship off Somalia with 20 American crew on board, the US Navy said. It was the sixth maritime hijacking in five days.

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