Following an attack in early January on a merchant vessel 260 miles off the Somali Coast, twelve men suspected of committing an act of piracy, have been transferred by EU Naval Force warship FS Surcouf to the Mauritian authorities for prosecution.
When the attack happened on 5th January, the master of the merchant vessel sent out a distress call reporting that he and his crew were coming under attack by six men in a fast moving boat, armed with rocket propelled grenades. Having employed avoidance tactics, the merchant vessel was able to repel the attack.
Upon hearing the distress call, NATO warship USS Halyburton, operating as part of NATO’s counter piracy operation – Ocean Shield, and on patrol 80 nautical miles away, launched her helicopter and was able to quickly locate a suspect boat – which was by now towing another vessel, with several men on board.
EU Naval Force French Frigate Surcouf, operating as part of the EU’s counter piracy mission – Operation Atalanta, made best speed to the area, as a German EU Naval Force Maritime Patrol Aircraft kept watch overhead. Upon arrival, and in full cooperation with the NATO warship, the boarding team from French warship Surcouf boarded the two suspect vessels and apprehended twelve men in total.
When suspect pirates are apprehended at sea, EU Naval Force always seeks, where possible, a legal finish and after engaging with Mauritian authorities, who hold a transfer agreement with the EU, the twelve men were today transferred to Mauritius for prosecution.
In July 2011 the Internationa Group of P&I Clubs announced that the EU and the Republic of Mauritius signed an agreement on the transfer and prosecution of suspected pirates. This agreement defines the conditions and modalities for the transfer of persons suspected of having committed acts of piracy, detained by EUNAVFOR within its area of operation and on the high seas off the coast of Mauritius, Madagascar, the Comoros Island, Seychelles and Réunion Island. Under this agreement, EUNAVFOR may transfer suspected pirates and associated seized property to the competent law enforcement authorities of Mauritius for the purpose of investigation and prosecution. The agreement specifies that transferred suspects will be prosecuted and tried under Mauritian law. Article 4 of the agreement sets out individual rights and minimum guarantees for suspects awaiting trial. The agreement also defines the obligations of both parties as regards records, notification and handling of seized property and evidence. The agreement applies provisionally and will enter into force when the Parties have concluded their internal procedure for the ratification of the agreement. In the context of this agreement, the European Union has allocated a EUR 3 Million grant to the Republic of Mauritius under the 10th European Development Programme. This funding will contribute to the setting up of a court of justice and prison facilities.
Speaking about the successful transfer, the Operation Commander of the EU Naval Force, Rear Admiral Bob Tarrant said “Mauritius is a key partner in the fight against piracy in the region and today we sent a clear message to pirates that EU Naval Force and Mauritius are determined and committed to achieve legal prosecution for those accused of attacking ships at sea”.