Dutch Supreme Court renders judgement in Somali piracy case

On 6 December 2016 the Criminal Division of the Dutch Supreme Court Rendered a JUDGEMENT in a piracy / sea robbery case.

In the morning of 24 October 2012 – as a participant of the anti-piracy missions ‘Atalanta’ and ‘Ocean Shield’ – the Dutch navy vessel Zr. Ms. ROTTERDAM (a Landing Platform Dock amphibious warfare ship) was patrolling in the territorial waters of Somalia near Bandar Beyla.

The Zr. Ms. ROTTERDAM spotted two dhows of the type ‘Sambug’ and ‘Jelbut’, types of dhows which are regularly used for piracy activities and it was decided to perform a so-called Maritime Situational Awareness approach (an activity where a vessel is approached to investigate whether she engages in piracy activities).

The MSA approach was performed with three RHIBS (Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats) with armed navy personnel under cover of the Zr. Ms. ROTTERDAM.

First the ‘Sambug’ dhow was to be inspected. Little did the Dutch navy know that this dhow was an Iranian fishing vessel called the MOHSEN which had been hijacked by a group of armed Somalis near Oman. After their capture the crew of the MOHSEN had been kicked, beaten and threatened with weapons and locked up on board their own vessel and taken to Somalia by the armed Somalis.

At the start of the MSA approach both dhows had been at anchor approximately 500 meters from the coast, but after the Zr. Ms. ROTTERDAM had tried to contact the dhows by VHF radio the MOHSEN started to sail away towards the shore.

When the RHIBS were approx. 100 meters from the MOHSEN the RHIBS machine gun fire opened up from the MOHSEN which was answered by gun fire from the RHIBS and the Zr. Ms. ROTTERDAM. After a fire broke out near the bridge of the MOHSEN people were seen jumping overboard.

Ultimately 25 persons were picked up out of the water by the RHIBS (19 of the MOHSEN´s original crew members and 6 Somali) thereunder the suspect in the concerned criminal legal proceedings.

The suspect was taken to the Netherlands to stand trial. The Dutch courts accepted that they had jurisdiction to hear the case against the suspect on the basis of art. 4 paragraph 5 of the Dutch Criminal Code. The Public Prosecutor brought a case for, shortly put, piracy and attempted manslaughter (shooting at Dutch navy personnel from a hijacked vessel).

The Supreme Court imposed a sentence of imprisonment of 5 years and 8 months.

Dutch courts have dealt with civil law aspects of piracy in maritime cases. For instance cases relating to such questions as whether ransom fee paid to pirates on behalf of the vessel´s Owners could be declared in GA, whether for the contribution to GA a lien could be exercised on the cargo, etc.

More and more the Dutch courts are also trying criminal law cases relating to suspected cases of piracy.

(Mr Richard van ’t Zelfde, Rotterdam, 6 December 2016).