Germany`s first pirate trial for 400 years opens

Ten Somali men in the dock are accused of attempting to seize a German ship.

Hamburg: The first pirate trial to take place in Germany for some 400 years opened on Monday, with 10 Somali men in the dock accused of attempting to seize a German container ship in April.

Pirates used to have their heads chopped off down by the docks in this northern port but the Somali gang faces a maximum sentence of 15 years after a trial that is due to last several months.

The men, aged between 17 and 48, are charged with attacking the MS Taipan some 900 kilometres (560 miles) east of the Somali coast.

Dutch naval forces boarded the ship after a brief exchange of gunfire and handed the pirates over to Germany. The crew evaded capture by hiding in a so-called "panic room”.

Piracy is a growing problem off the coast of lawless Somalia, with both the number of attacks and the ransoms demanded spiking over the past two years, according to the London-based International Maritime Bureau.

Some 23 vessels and 500 crew are currently held by Somali pirates, the bureau said.

Dieter Berg, head of marine underwriting at Germany`s Munich Re, the world`s leading reinsurance company, said the trial was unlikely to deter others from rushing to join the Horn of Africa`s most lucrative business.

"It`s a high-profit, low-risk game" for pirates, he said. "It`s important pirates should face trial," but too few countries are prepared to deal with such difficult cases, he added.

"There`s little risk involved for would-be pirates" as most of them are simply captured and then released, he said.

Another expert, Anja Shortland, who studies piracy at the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), said that for a Somali pirate to be tried in the West "might be the ultimate prize rather than a deterrent”.

"Spending three, five, even seven years in a European or American jail followed by political asylum -- you can`t do much better as a Somali man," she said.

Bureau Report