Danish Prosecutors Seek to Bring Gulf of Guinea Pirates Home for Trial

esbern snare
Esbern Snare in the Gulf of Guinea (Anders Fridberg / Danish Armed Forces)

Published Dec 9, 2021 8:08 PM by The Maritime Executive

Danish prosecutors are looking for options to bring four captured pirates from the Gulf of Guinea to Denmark to face justice, and they are even examining the possibility of chartering a vessel to ship them all the way north. 

On November 24, the Danish frigate Esbern Snare was on an antipiracy patrol in the Gulf of Guinea when her crew spotted a suspicious skiff in international waters. The crew launched a helicopter to investigate. The helicopter crew spotted equipment associated with piracy in the boat, including ladders, so the Snare gave pursuit and launched a boat with a boarding party. The suspected pirate skiff did not stop when ordered, so the Danish forces fired customary warning shots. In response, the skiff's occupants opened fire on the helicopter and the boarding party, putting seven holes in the Esbern Snare's launch.

The Danish forces returned fire, killing four of the skiff's occupants. One more individual went over the side and is unaccounted for, and four suspects were captured, including one with severe injuries to his leg. (The limb was later amputated by Snare's medical team.)

A Danish court has granted prosecutors' request to hold the survivors in custody in absentia. With an extension, Danish officials have until December 22 to bring the suspects before the court for trial. That would be a simple matter if the arrest had occurred in the Baltic, but the case is complicated by the Esbern Snare's location. Nearby West African states do not have legal arrangements in place for extradition by plane, nor could they provide certainty of local criminal prosecution under their own laws. 

"[Bringing them] home is a big logistical and diplomatic task. It has also been investigated whether you can charter a ship and sail them home, but there are logistical and administrative challenges with that," said special prosecutor Karen Moestrup Jensen, according to Danish outlet DR. 

If the suspected pirates are tried in a Danish court, their appointed attorney plans to argue that they shot at Danish forces in self defense - only after the Esbern Snare's helicopter crew fired the first warning shots.