Somali 'pirates' flown to Netherlands after deadly firefight

Four suspected Somali pirates were flown to the Netherlands on Tuesday to stand trial after they opened fire on Dutch marines off the Somali coast last month, the Dutch defence ministry said.

The four arrived at the southern Eindhoven air base following the October 24 skirmish just off the war-torn east African country's coast in which one hostage crew member was killed, a statement said.

The firefight happened when marines from the Dutch amphibian transport HMS Rotterdam held a routine inspection of a fishing dhow 400 metres (yards) off the coastline.

"When a specialised marine unit in motor boats was 100 metres away, they were shot at. The marines, who were not injured, shot back," the statement said.

The dhow caught fire and members of a crew being held hostage as well as suspected pirates jumped overboard.

Marines later rescued 25 people, of whom six were fingered as pirates by Pakistani and Iranian sailors who had been taken hostage off the Oman coast a few weeks earlier.

"Because the Dutch soldiers were being shot at, the prosecutor's office decided to put the four suspects on trial in the Netherlands," said the ministry.

"Two other suspects were freed because they were minors," it added.

The 12,700-tonne Rotterdam sailed to Aden on July 11 to take part in Operation Ocean Shield, the defence ministry added on its website.

Statistics from the European Union Naval Force's anti-piracy operation Atalanta say that after a spike last year successful pirate attacks on commercial vessels off the Horn of Africa have diminished.

In 2011, some 176 attacks were recorded, while only 35 took place so far this year, it said on its website.

Pirates currently control five ships and hold hostage an estimated 141 crew members. More than 1,000 alleged pirates are awaiting trial or have been sentenced in 20 countries.

The first Somali pirates to be tried in Europe were jailed for five years by a Rotterdam court in 2010 after they attacked a Turkish cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden. The Netherlands has universal jurisdiction for alleged piracy crimes.

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