ROTTERDAM (Reuters) - Five suspected Somali pirates went on trial in a Dutch court on Tuesday for seizing a South African yacht and face up to 15 years in prison if found guilty.
The yacht Choizil was taken off the coast of Tanzania on November 7. Many vessels including oil tankers have been seized in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden by heavily armed pirates seeking tens of millions of dollars in ransoms.
One member of Choizil's crew was rescued by a European Union anti-piracy task force. But two others were taken ashore as hostages and Dutch prosecutors believe they are still being held.
The five suspects, whose ages ranged from 20 to 30 at the time of their transfer to the Netherlands in December, are charged with piracy and sea robbery.
Assisted by interpreters, the five attended the start of the trial in Rotterdam and a verdict is expected on August 13.
Wim de Bruin, a spokesman for the Dutch public prosecution service, said the five men face maximum sentences of up to 15 years' imprisonment, to be served in a Dutch jail.
The cost of international piracy on world trade is put at billions of dollars a year but, because of the huge distances involved, international navies struggle to contain the crisis.
Even when alleged pirates have been captured, it has proved difficult to put them on trial because of disagreements over which country should try them, and because Somalia lacks the legal infrastructure to carry out prosecutions.
In April, the U.N. Security Council backed the idea of special courts to try captured Somali pirates but put off a decision on thorny issues such as where to locate them.
The Dutch prosecution department said the five Somali men were being tried under a law which gives the Netherlands international jurisdiction over piracy, a crime under international law.