Russia may prosecute Somali pirates – report

Tue May 12, 2009 2:34pm EDT

MOSCOW, May 12 (Reuters) – Russian courts may prosecute Somali pirates for attacks on Russian ships, a senior legal official was quoted as saying in a newspaper due for publication on Wednesday.

The comments from Russia‘s deputy prosecutor general follow efforts by Russia and other countries to find a legal mechanism to prosecute pirates operating off the East African coast, who have become increasingly bold over the past year.

In 2008 there were 293 incidents of piracy against ships worldwide — 11 percent up on the year before. Attacks off Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden almost trebled.

“The transfer of such individuals into the hands of the Somalis is pointless,” Deputy Prosecutor General Alexander Zvyagintsev said in an interview to be published in the Rossiiskaya Gazeta newspaper.

Pirates operating off Somalia are currently holding 17 ships and about 300 hostages, he added.

Zvyagintsev was quoted as saying that under international maritime law, any country which has captured pirates can launch its own prosecution.

Since Somalia had not been a functioning state for almost 20 years, there was no point expecting them to face prosecution there, he said.

“The general prosecutor’s office has worked out the possibility of starting criminal proceedings in Russian law against individuals who conducted an act of piracy,” the state RIA news agency quoted Zvyagintsev as saying.

On May 4, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev suggested the creation of a special international court to prosecute pirates operating off East Africa.

Last month Russia captured a pirate vessel with 29 people on board after it tried to seize a Liberian-flagged ship with a Russian crew.

Somali gangs have made millions of dollars in ransom by seizing vessels and have driven up insurance rates and other costs in the key sea lanes linking Europe to Asia.

The attacks have worsened despite the presence of naval forces from more than a dozen states, including Russia, and task forces under NATO, EU and U.S. command.

The United States has already started proceedings against one suspected pirate. (For a Take a Look on Somali piracy see [ID:nPIRATES] ) (Reporting by Conor Sweeney; editing by Andrew Roche)

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