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    Somali pirates could face trial in Russia

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    Suspected pirates seized by a Russian warship off the Somali coast earlier this week could be tried in Russia, media said on Thursday.

    MOSCOW, April 30 (RIA Novosti) - Suspected pirates seized by a Russian warship off the Somali coast earlier this week could be tried in Russia, media said on Thursday.

    Vremya Novostei said that the ship's commanders and diplomats face legal difficulties in handing over the suspects over to any of the Gulf of Aden littoral states.

    The Admiral Panteleyev missile destroyer seized on Tuesday a boat carrying 29 people, believed to have unsuccessfully attacked a Russian-staffed oil tanker which passed through the Gulf en route to Singapore, Russia's Defense Ministry said on Wednesday.

    The paper said Russia has no agreements with regional nations that would allow it to hand over the suspects. Russia has no embassy in Somalia, where most of the detainees come from.

    "We have to admit that not all the legal and practical issues have been resolved," official Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said on Wednesday. "We have come up against difficulties in bringing the suspects to justice."

    Moscow is entitled under a United Nations Security Council resolution to take the suspects to Russia for trial. The United States has already resorted to the resolution to prosecute a suspected Somali pirate in New York.

    Piracy is punishable under Russian law by a prison term of between five and 15 years, and a fine of 500,000 rubles ($15,000).

    However, experts quoted by the Kommersant daily suggested that Russia might eventually let the suspects go, as their attacks on the Liberian-flagged and Russian-staffed tanker NS Commander would be difficult to prove.

    The 23-men crew successfully repelled the attempted hijack. A search of the suspected attackers' boat conducted by Admiral Panteleyev later "resulted in the discovery of seven Kalashnikov assault rifles, several handguns, navigation equipment, fuel canisters, and a large number of spent cartridges," the Defense Ministry said.

    "This leads us to believe that these pirates could have been involved in two unsuccessful attacks on the tanker," the ministry said.

    The destroyer was about 130 miles from the tanker at the time of the attacks.

    Around 20 warships from the navies of at least a dozen countries are involved in anti-piracy operations off Somalia. According to the United Nations, Somali pirates carried out at least 120 attacks on ships in 2008, resulting in combined ransom payouts of around $150 million.

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