KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Malaysia and South Korea announced plans Tuesday to prosecute 12 captured Somali pirates in what maritime officials praised as a move that might deter the hijacking of ships off East Africa.
Somali pirates apprehended by authorities are often not brought to justice, but merely released after being disarmed. The international community has often depended on countries like Kenya and the Seychelles in the past to prosecute pirates, who took a record 1,016 hostages for ransom last year.
Naval commandos from Malaysia and South Korea staged separate raids last Friday on a Malaysian chemical tanker and South Korean-operated cargo ship seized by pirates in the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea respectively. The commandos overpowered a total of 12 pirates and rescued 44 crew members. Eight pirates were killed by the South Korean team.
Malaysia was transporting seven detainees to Kuala Lumpur and planned to hold them in police custody until investigations into the incident are completed, a federal police spokesman said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make public statements.
Attorney General Abdul Gani Patail told The Associated Press he had not decided what charges might be filed. It would be the first trial in Malaysia involving Somali pirates.
South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok meanwhile said that his country's "stance is to prosecute pirates rather than swapping them" for other fishermen being held by pirates in a separate hijacking case.
Seoul also was considering bringing five captured Somalis to South Korea, Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan said, noting that it was natural for his country to handle the assailants who inflicted damage on South Koreans.
Such prosecutions could help send a message to Somali pirates that they must pay for their crimes, said Noel Choong, head of the International Maritime Bureau's piracy watch center in Kuala Lumpur.
"The Somali pirates must realize that the world is serious about eradicating Somali pirates and would not hesitate to capture and charge them accordingly," Choong told the AP.
"In our view, this is exactly what should be done, and if this kind of action is taken, then we would see a reduction in the scale and violence of the attacks," Choong added.
Mohamad Nizam Basiron, a researcher at the Maritime Institute of Malaysia, said this would be the first time Somali pirates were being brought to Asia to stand trial.
On Monday, the chief of staff of the anti-piracy force that patrols the waters off Somalia welcomed a move by the Philippines to also consider bringing pirates to the country to try them.
U.S. Navy Capt. Chris Chambers said finding countries willing to prosecute pirates arrested off the East African coast has been a problem and many captured assailants are simply let go after being disarmed. He was speaking at a briefing on piracy for diplomats, maritime industry members and media in the Philippines, the leading supplier of seafarers globally.
Somali pirates have also been tried in the United States and Germany in the past year. In November, a jury in Virginia convicted five Somali men of piracy for their attack on a U.S. Navy ship. They face mandatory life terms at a sentencing hearing set for March.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last year said a special international court for pirates is being looked at.
Somali pirates currently hold 32 vessels and 746 crew members of various nationalities, according to a recent report by the International Maritime Bureau. It said Somali pirates are operating more broadly than ever, from Oman on the Arabian Peninsula to Mozambique, more than 2,500 miles (4,000 kilometers) away in southeastern Africa.
Many officials say the real solution lies in creating peace and stability in Somalia, which has been in near-anarchy without a functioning government for two decades.
Associated Press writers Julia Zappei in Kuala Lumpur, Kim Kwang-tae in Seoul and Teresa Cerojano in Manila contributed to this report.