COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Three suspected pirates who were detained on a Danish military vessel after a fatal gunfight with the Danish navy off West Africa have been released after the government decided it did not want to bring them to Denmark to face preliminary charges of attempted murder.
“We have no interest in getting the persons in question to Denmark,” Justice Minister Nick Haekkerup said Thursday, adding there was a “risk that they would not subsequently be deported.”
A fourth suspected pirate who was injured during a gunbattle with the Danish army, is already in Denmark receiving medical care and will continue to face charges, he said.
Foreign citizens found guilty of crimes in Denmark are often deported after having served their time. But some fight to stay, while others cannot be extradited because Denmark may not have extradition agreements with their countries. The nationalities of the suspected pirates are not known.
Haekkerup said he “had quite exceptionally ordered the prosecution to notify three of the four suspected pirates that charges against them would be dropped.” He said it was “a very unusual case,” adding “they simply do not belong here. And that’s why I think it’s the right thing to do.”
Danish media said the men were put on a dinghy in international waters with enough fuel, water and food to reach land.
The fourth suspected pirate was flown to Denmark on Jan. 6 where he will face a custody hearing and “further prosecution against him continues.”
He was first admitted to a hospital in Ghana during a port call in December. However, as it was not possible to leave him there or in the area, and because it was not justifiable to release him at sea “for health and safety reasons,” the government said “it has been necessary to bring the person to Denmark.”
The Nov. 24. incident involved the Danish frigate HDMS Esbern Snare, which was on an anti-piracy operation off West Africa.
It engaged in an exchange of fire with a vessel that was reported to have been approaching several commercial ships in the Gulf of Guinea off oil-rich Nigeria. It had first dispatched a Seahawk helicopter which reported seeing men on the vessel with “equipment connected to piracy, including ladders.”
Following the gun battle, the vessel sank. Four of the suspected pirates were killed and one is missing, presumed drowned. The other four were taken aboard the Danish ship.
Later, because the ship is considered Danish territory, a Copenhagen court ordered the four held in custody while authorities investigate the case. In Denmark, preliminary charges are one step short of formal charges.
The Gulf of Guinea is one of the world’s most dangerous waterways with regular kidnappings. In 2019, the region accounted for more than 90% of global crew member abductions.