The first European trial of alleged Somali pirates opens on Tuesday in the Netherlands. Five men face up to 12 years in jail for seeking to hijack a cargo ship off the coast of Somalia.
The Gulf of Aden is notorious as an area where Somali pirates are active
Five Somali men will appear in a Rotterdam court on Tuesday, charged with trying to hijack a cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden.
The suspects, aged between 25 and 45 were arrested on January 2, 2009 after their high-speed boat with firearms was intercepted as they were allegedly preparing to board the cargo ship Samanyolu.
The Netherlands issued European arrest warrants for the men three weeks later and the Somalis have been in custody ever since.
Pirates or fishermen?
A defense lawyer for one of the five men said they were challenging the jurisdiction of the Dutch court.
A court artist impression of the five suspected Somali pirates during the May 2009 hearing
The cargo vessel "was registered in the Dutch Antilles", and as they have their own justice system "there is no reason to have a trial in the Netherlands," lawyer Haroon Raza told the news agency AFP.
Another lawyer for the suspects told a hearing in May 2009 "the pirates are poor fishermen who acted out of pure despair."
However, Ward Ferdinandusse for the prosecution said at the hearing a year ago that "we mustn't forget the interests of the ships and their crew who were shot at and held hostage."
Many of the suspects arrested in military operations in the Gulf of Aden in recent years have been set free due to a lack of evidence. Legal expert at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations, Bibi van Ginkel, told AFP it is difficult to obtain evidence unless they are caught in the act.
"In the Gulf of Aden, fishermen also carry arms," van Ginkel added.
Other European cases
Investigations into piracy have taken place in Spain, France, Kenya and Yemen
The Rotterdam trial is the first of its kind in Europe. However, elsewhere there are ongoing investigations and extradition requests.
There are two ongoing proceedings in France, where two alleged hijackings of private yachts are being investigated. Six men are accused of attacking the French luxury yacht 'le Ponant' in 2008 and holding 30 crew members hostage. Three Somalis are accused of hijacking the yacht 'Tanit' in April 2009.
A trial of alleged Somali pirates could also soon take place in Germany. A court in Hamburg has requested the extradition of ten Somalis, who allegedly overpowered the container ship 'Taipan' in April 2010.
Outside of Europe, a Yemeni court last week sentenced six Somali pirates to death and jailed six others for 10 years for hijacking a Yemeni oil tanker and killing two cabin crew in April last year.
The Rotterdam trial is due to last five days and judgement is expected on June 16.
Editor: Susan Houlton