The first piracy trial in Germany for hundreds of years finished on Friday with jail sentences handed out to ten Somalis who were involved in hijacking the freighter Taipan off the Somali coast two years ago.Trying the Somalis, aged between 19 and 50, had been a mammoth task for Hamburg’s justice authorities, involving 105 days in court, a flood of evidence and statements, and countless translations.
On Friday, the court handed down sentences of between six and seven years for the seven adults, and two years of youth detention for the three men charged as juveniles.
The armed men stormed the Taipan on April 5, 2010 and hijacked the 140-metre long container ship belonging to the Hamburg shipping firm Komrowksi.
The Taipan’s 15-member crew managed to evade capture by the pirates by taking refuge in a so-called “panic room” hidden within the ship.
But the pirates did not keep control for long – a Dutch frigate came to the rescue, and after a short gunfight, the pirates were arrested. Their five machine guns and two rocket launchers were confiscated.
The Taipan, which was travelling under a German flag, was en route from Haifa to Mombasa and was around 980 kilometres from the Somali coast when the pirates struck. They had intended to take the crew hostage and demand a ransom.
They were extradited to Germany in June 2010 and have been in custody since then.
Defence lawyers had argued that trying the men in Germany was ridiculous given the differences between the two countries.
“We are laying down the law according to our German standards, over people whose lives we cannot even begin to imagine,” said Rainer Pohlen, defence lawyer for the youngest defendant.
“My homeland has collapsed. I beg the presiding judge, be fair,” one of the men said through a court interpreter.
But Ralf Nagel, presidium manager of the Association of German Shipowners said: “Piracy is a crime and criminals belong in court.”
Court spokesman Conrad Müller said the Hamburg court was taking on a piece of international responsibility by trying the case.
After a spike at the start of the last decade, successful pirate attacks on commercial vessels sailing off the Horn of Africa have diminished, with the pirates deterred by an international deployment of warships patrolling the coast.
In 2011, some 176 attacks were recorded, and 34 have taken place so far this year, according to the latest statistics from Operation Atalanta, the European Union’s anti-piracy deployment to the region.
Pirates currently control six ships and hold an estimated 156 crew members hostage.