Denmark frees three Africa piracy suspects, holds one

Three suspected pirates held by the Danish navy after a shootout off the Nigerian coast will not be prosecuted in Denmark, but a fourth, who was injured, remains under investigation, officials said Thursday.

All four men, of unknown nationality, were arrested in the Gulf of Guinea in late November after an exchange of fire with a Danish navy ship, the Esbern Snare.

“The prosecutor has decided not to prosecute my client,” and he will be released shortly, lawyer Niels Anker Rasmussen told AFP.

Two more lawyers representing the other two suspects told Danish media the case against their clients had also been dropped, and they too would be released.

The three had been detained on Danish navy vessel.

The fourth suspect was injured in the shootout and had been receiving treatment in a hospital in Ghana, but has now been taken to Denmark where he remains under investigation, officials said.

He was flown to Denmark on Thursday and will appear before a judge on Friday “to continue the investigation against him,” the Danish justice ministry said in a statement.

“In view of Denmark’s international obligations and the alleged pirate’s state of health, it was considered that there was no alternative to bringing him to Denmark,” Justice Minister Nick Haekkerup said in the statement.

It is the first time the Scandinavian country has transferred a piracy suspect to its territory. It has no extradition agreement with the countries along the Gulf of Guinea coast.

Rasmussen said the decision not to prosecute his client was also probably due to fears that, after any prosecution, his client “could not be sent back home due to Denmark’s obligations” under international conventions, and that “this might inspire others” to follow suit.

The incident occurred on November 24 when the crew of the Esbern Snare, which was patrolling international waters in the area, attempted to board a pirate vessel.

Danish prosecutors accused the pirates of firing the first shot and sought to press charges over them attacking Danish soldiers, accusations they have denied.

Four more suspected pirates were killed in the firefight and a fifth fell overboard, the Danish authorities said.

The Gulf of Guinea, which stretches 5,700 kilometres (3,500 miles) from Senegal to Angola, is a troubled area for shipping companies, with 195 attacks on ships recorded in 2020 alone.

Of the 135 hostage-takings at sea that year, 130 occurred in the region, the International Maritime Office has said.