NAPLES, Italy — Dutch and European Union naval forces detained nine suspected pirates and seized two skiffs near the Somali coast Tuesday after a merchant vessel issued a call of suspicious activity, EU officials said.
Sailors from the Dutch HNLMS De Ruyter detained the suspected pirates after a helicopter crew from the De Ruyter spotted men on one skiff dumping material into the ocean and attempting to flee, said Timo Lange, a spokesman for European Union Naval Force Somalia - Operation Atalanta.
He declined to specify what the dumped material might be because the incident is under investigation and authorities have not decided whether to prosecute the suspects.
“We try to collect the evidence and see if prosecution is possible. Until that decision is made, I can’t give more details. We don’t want to risk any hindrance on our side of the case or the possible fate of the suspects,” Lange said.
The helicopter crew from the De Ruyter spotted two high-powered skiffs about 230 miles northeast of Eyl, off the coast of Somalia, according to a task force press release. As the helicopter approached, the crew saw men throw material overboard and the two skiffs split up in an attempt to escape. A boarding team stopped one skiff and a helicopter from the EU Naval Force flagship ESPS Mendez Nuñez stopped the second skiff, the release states.
The nine suspects were taken aboard the De Ruyter, where they remained Wednesday awaiting a decision of whether they face prosecution, Lange said.
Such decisions are made by the European Union nations that are part of the anti-piracy task force and African countries willing or able to prosecute. In the past, criminal trials for pirates have been carried out in the Seychelles, Mauritius and Kenya.
There were 297 piracy attacks and 28 hijackings worldwide in 2012, according to the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Center. Of those, 75 incidents were tied to Somali pirates, who captured 250 hostages. Increased military patrols and private security teams hired by commercial vessels have contributed to a 27 percent decrease in pirate attacks since 2009.
Nearly 100 countries, including the United States and members of the EU, have deployed ships and personnel for international efforts aimed at wiping out piracy. The U.S. Navy has been actively training various African navies and coast guards to protect their own waterways.