May 25, 2010 / 2:32 PM / 10 years ago

Somalis deny piracy in landmark European trial

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Five Somalis denied Tuesday trying to hijack a ship from the Dutch Antilles in 2009, as the first European piracy trial opened in a Dutch court.

The five Somalis are accused of attacking and attempting to hijack the Samanyolu, a Dutch Antilles-flagged ship, while it was sailing in the Gulf of Aden in January 2009.

The ship’s Turkish crew had fired signal flares at the Somali boat, ripping it to shreds. Danish marines then rescued the Somalis and handed them over to Dutch authorities.

At the time of their capture the suspects had said they wanted to attack and rob a ship, but Tuesday one Somali said they were out fishing at the time and had approached the Samanyolu for help when their boat was damaged, Dutch agency ANP reported.

The maximum penalty the suspects face is nine years in jail, while their leader could face a 12-year sentence.

The Netherlands is trying the suspects under international piracy law, though the country has said it only wants to handle Dutch-related cases.

In December, experts at a conference in The Hague said efforts to establish an international court to prosecute Somali pirates face complex laws governing the seas and national sovereignty as well as the lack of an effective police force.

Friday, the defence lawyer for another group of suspected Somali pirates held by Dutch authorities spoke out against a German request to extradite them, seeing no reason for Germany to take over the prosecution.

Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen has called for a regional court in Africa to be set up to try Somali pirates.

Reporting by Catherine Hornby and Svebor Kranjc; editing by Myra MacDonald

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