Historic Somali piracy trial in US wrapping up as German one opens
The Somali piracy trials, the first in centuries, have shed light on counterpiracy efforts. But some say the trials will not deter pirates, who have hijacked 37 ships in 2010 alone.
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The trials add legal heft to multinational efforts to curb Somali pirates that have hijacked 37 ships, taken 700 hostages, and killed or hurt 12 people this year alone. But some experts doubt such trials will be much of a deterrent.
The trial in America this month has offered a rare glimpse into the US Navy's counterpiracy operations as well as the murky world of Somali pirates, who have plagued one of the world's busiest shipping lanes for years.
Five Somali men are standing trial in Norfolk, Va., on plundering, weapons, and 12 other charges for their failed April 1 attack on a US Navy ship disguised to look like a cargo freighter.
The five men's defense attorneys have argued that they were "innocent fishermen who were abducted by pirates and forced to fire their weapons at the ship," according to the Associated Press. Their case will go to jurors for a decision after today's closing arguments. If found guilty, they face life in jail, AP reported.
During the attacks, three of the Somali men jumped into a skiff and raced toward the US-guided missile frigate Nicholas, then fired rounds from their AK-47 assault rifles that hit the ship's mast but hurt no one, according to the Los Angeles Times.
By dawn, US Navy commandos had seized the five men, the L.A. Times said.
They were flown to Norfolk after Kenya refused to accept them for prosecution.
The L.A. Times notes that the trial has highlighted the difficulties in prosecuting Somali pirates in US courts, especially since the men never actually boarded the US Navy vessel. "In a similar but separate case, another federal judge in Norfolk dismissed piracy charges against six other Somalis accused of firing at the U.S. Navy vessel Ashland, although they face other charges," the L.A. Times wrote. "Prosecutors are appealing."
Meanwhile, the trial of 10 separate Somali pirates opened in the German city of Hamburg on Monday, the first piracy trial in Germany for some 400 years. The men, between the ages of 17 and 48, stand accused of attacking the MS Taipan 560 miles off the Somali coast, according to Agence France-Presse.