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Germany court opens country's first piracy trial in 400 years

The Hanseatic Higher Regional Court of Hamburg [official website, in German] on Monday commenced [press release, in German] the country's first piracy trial in 400 years against 10 accused Somali pirates [JURIST news archive] on Monday. The suspects are charged with hijacking a ship registered in Hamburg off the Horn of Africa and face maximum sentences of between 10 and 15 years in prison. The 10 accused pirates were arrested by the Dutch navy hours after they took over the "Taipan" on April 5. The container ship's crew hid in a panic room on board the ship and avoided capture by the pirates. The case is being held in a juvenile court [AFP report] as some of the accused were under 18 years old at the time of the attack. One individual claims that he was as young as 13, and, in Germany, criminal charges may not be imposed on individuals who are younger than 14. Presiding Judge Bernd Steinmetz instructed the court to assume the youngest pirate was at least 14 years old [Bloomberg report] at the time of the attack until the issue can be resolved.

Earlier this month, the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website] began the first US piracy trial [JURIST report] in more than 100 years. In May, the Netherlands District Court of Rotterdam [official website, in Dutch] initiated the first modern European trial [JURIST report] of Somali pirates. The international community has been supporting actions taken against maritime piracy, but the UN has recently had to call for nations to assist Kenya in conducting piracy trials [JURIST report]. In April, the UN Security Council approved a resolution [JURIST report] calling on member states to criminalize piracy under their domestic laws as well as an announcement from the UN that a trust fund established to combat piracy will be funding five projects [UN News Centre report] in an effort to help Somalia and its neighbors reduce acts of piracy committed in nearby bodies of water. Piracy remains an issue of international concern, as few countries have been willing to prosecute suspected pirates. The few that have attempted to do so include Kenya, Mauritius, Yemen, Somalia and Spain [JURIST reports].

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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