The first European trial of suspected Somali pirates has started in the Netherlands. Five men are charged with the attempted hijacking of a Dutch cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden.
Piracy is an ongoing problem in the seas around Somalia
As the first ever European trial of suspected Somali pirates started in the Netherlands, the five accused men told the court they were only simple fishermen who themselves had come under attack.
Five Somalians, aged between 25 and 45, are accused of attacking the Turkish freighter 'Samanyolu' which was sailing under the flag of the Dutch Antilles.
The prosecution says the men attacked the ship with rocket launchers and then the pirates' boat was intercepted as they tried to board the Samanyolu in January 2009.
"I saw that one of the men had a rocket launcher in his hands," the cargo ship's first machinist told investigators in a statement read out by presiding judge Jan Willem Klein Wolterink.
The Turkish crew of the Samanyolu had fired at the Somalian boat, setting it alight and eventually sinking it.
A court artist impression of the five suspected pirates during initial hearings in May 2009
'They attacked us'
The accused men all claim they are innocent and were fishing for sharks in the Gulf of Aden, a stretch of sea off the coast of Somalia which has become notorious for piracy.
"The intention was to fish," defendant Farah Ahmed Yusuf, 25, told the Rotterdam district court, claiming that when their ship broke down they tried to get help from the passing Samanyolu.
"As we came closer, we put our hands in the air. While we had our hands in the air, they shot at us. They attacked us," claimed Yusuf.
Another defendant, Sayid Ali Garaar, 39, claimed his arrest and imprisonment in the Netherlands since January last year meant his family was at risk.
"I am the victim here," said Garaar. "They destroyed my boat and put my life in danger."
Somali piracy threat
According to the London-based International Maritime Bureau, which monitors maritime crime, pirates attempted 215 attacks on merchant ships off the Somali coast in 2009.
Last Tuesday, a Yemeni court sentenced six Somali pirates to death and jailed six others for ten years each for hijacking a Yemeni oil tanker and killing two cabin crew in April last year.
The Rotterdam trial is expected to last five days and judgement is set for June 16.
Editor: Susan Houlton