(Edited from AP, Rotterdam) Europe’s first trial of alleged Somali pirates opened Tuesday with conflicting accounts from the five suspects, a notable lack of physical evidence and a shortage of witnesses, in a case that illustrates the difficulty of prosecuting piracy cases and why so many captured sea bandits are let go.

And with one emotional outburst, one suspect also brought to light the core problem in trying to rein in the rampant piracy afflicting the Somali coast: poverty and the absence of any authority.

(Edited from AP, Rotterdam) Europe’s first trial of alleged Somali pirates opened Tuesday with conflicting accounts from the five suspects, a notable lack of physical evidence and a shortage of witnesses, in a case that illustrates the difficulty of prosecuting piracy cases and why so many captured sea bandits are let go.

And with one emotional outburst, one suspect also brought to light the core problem in trying to rein in the rampant piracy afflicting the Somali coast: poverty and the absence of any authority.

The case, held in a top security courtroom in this Dutch port city, was a landmark in the fight against the escalating incidents of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, which prompted navies around the world to join in a task force to protect one of the world’s busiest sea lanes for merchant ships and oil tankers.

Hundreds of pirates have been detained and several have been brought to Europe since the international armada was mobilized, but the majority have been released at sea because of the cost and difficulty of bringing them to trial.

Other European countries will be watching the Dutch case closely to weigh the merits of bringing piracy suspects to trial.

The trial is scheduled to last up to five days, and a verdict is expected next month. The pirates face a maximum 12-year sentence if convicted.

Dutch prosecutors charged the suspects with the 17th-century crime of “sea robbery,” though they were allegedly armed with modern weapons – AK47 assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades – when they attacked a freighter in January 2009 that flew the flag of the Dutch Antilles.

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