MOSCOW, May 12 (RIA Novosti) - Somali pirates can be prosecuted under Russian laws, a Russian deputy general prosecutor said on Tuesday.
In an interview with Rossiiskaya Gazeta, to be published on Wednesday, Alexander Zvyagintsev said that since Somali did not have an effective government "it is senseless" to hand pirates over to Somali authorities.
"Therefore, the entire responsibility for starting judicial proceedings rests with the state whose ship has seized these pirates," he said.
He said that pirates operating off Somalia are currently holding 17 ships and about 300 hostages.
Zvyagintsev added that in 2008, pirates received $120-150 million in ransom, which enabled them to buy more sophisticated facilities for attacking merchant ships.
President Dmitry Medvedev urged Russian prosecutors last Monday to discuss with their foreign colleagues the possibility of creating an international piracy court.
The appeal came as about 30 suspected pirates were being held on board a Russian warship after carrying out an unsuccessful hijack attempt on a Liberian-flagged and Russian-crewed tanker.
Media reports said they could face trial in Russia as Navy commanders and diplomats have experienced difficulties finding any Gulf of Aden littoral state willing to take the pirates.
Somali pirates have stepped up attacks on merchant ships in the Gulf of Aden, seizing vessels and kidnapping crews, receiving millions of dollars in ransom. Naval forces from at least a dozen countries have been involved in anti-piracy operations off Somalia.
Media reports earlier said Russia had no agreements with regional nations that would allow it to hand over the suspects. Russia has no diplomatic mission in Somalia, where most of the detainees come from.
Moscow is entitled under a United Nations Security Council resolution to take the suspects to Russia for trial. The United States has already taken legal action 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).
Experts say, however, that establishing pirates' identity and proving the attempted attack in a court of law could be difficult.