|Europe has stepped up anti-piracy efforts in the Indian Ocean in an effot to curb the problem of Somali piracy [EPA]
Ten suspected Somali pirates have gone on trial in Germany for attacking a German cargo ship in the country's first modern-day piracy trial.
The alleged pirates are accused of storming the German-flagged MV Taipan in April with the aim of taking the ship and its crew hostage and demanding a ransom for their release.
Wilhelm Moellers, spokesman for the Hamburg public prosecutors office, said on Monday that there was strong eviedence against the men. "We presented the court with 22 witnesses and a mass of material evidence, including the weapons used by the accused."
He said the accused included seven adults and three juveniles. The young people could be tried under junvenile law once their age has been determined, and will face reduced sentences of up to 10 years. The adults face a 15 year stint behind bars if found guilty.
The defence team said it would be highlighting conditions in Somalia as mitigating factors in the court's consideration of the men's alleged crimes.
"Anyone who has read up a little on Somalia knows it is a very poor country where millions of people are starving and terrible hardship prevails," Gabriele Heinecke, a defence lawyer, said. "You can't really live there and that certainly has something to do with this trial."
The men were captured by Dutch commandos on April 5 after a brief assualt on the MV Taipan off the Somali coast. They were taken to the Netherlands and then extradited to Germany.
They are the first people to be prosecuted under piracy laws in modern Germany, and one of the few groups to have gone on trial in Europe for their activities in the Indian Ocean.
After their capture, naval patrol ships announced that sending pirates for trial in the home country of the ship attacked was the latest tactic in the fight against the problem.
The Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden have been the scene of hundreds of pirate attacks in recent years, as Somali-based maritime marauders have wreaked havoc on commercial shipping in the region.
Even if they are found guilty, the Somali group are unlikely to become the most famous pirates tried in Hamburg. That dubious honour is claimed by the German pirate Klaus Stoertebeker, who lived from 1360 to 1401 and operated in the Baltic Sea.
Stoertebeker, who was famed for his ability to drink four litres of beer in the single gulp, was tried and sentenced to death in Hamburg along with his crew.
At his execution, Stoertebeker asked the mayor to set as many members of his crew free as he could run past after being beheaded. Legend has it that his headless corpse staggered past 11 men before collapsing, but that they were executed regardless.