KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 25, 2011 (AFP) - Seven Somali pirates captured by Malaysian forces in a raid to free a hijacked oil tanker in the Gulf of Aden could face prosecution in the Southeast Asian nation, authorities said Tuesday.
Defence Minister Zahid Hamidi told state media that the pirates were being held on board the rescued Malaysian tanker MT Bunga Laurel along with its crew of 23. The ship docked in Singapore and is now en route to Malaysia.
"Immediately upon arrival, they will be handed over to the Royal Malaysian Police for further action," he was quoted as saying by Bernama.
An aide to the minister confirmed his remarks to AFP Tuesday and said the vessel would arrive in Malaysia on January 31, but that it was still too early to determine how a prosecution would be carried out.
Media reports said the case was being studied by Malaysian legal authorities to determine how to deal with the seven, who were captured in the lawless region more than 7,000 kilometres (4,350 miles) from Malaysia.
The chemical tanker was headed to Singapore with a cargo of lubricating oil worth more than $10 million last Thursday when pirates armed with AK-47 assault rifles boarded and took control of the ship.
Malaysian naval commandos, who were manning a vessel protecting shipping in the area along with a navy attack helicopter, responded to the distress call and captured the pirates after a brief firefight.
A day after the Malaysian raid, the South Korean navy captured five Somali pirates during a mission to rescue a hijacked ship. Media reports from Seoul have said those bandits may be taken to South Korea to face trial.
Seoul has started legal reviews to try the five as African countries refuse to try them in their own courts, Yonhap news agency reported, citing an unnamed senior official.
Piracy has surged off lawless Somalia in recent years, and international warships patrol the area in a bid to clamp down on the problem.
But a UN study said Monday that nine out of 10 pirates caught at sea are freed almost straight away because there is nowhere to try them.
It called for a court to be set up under Somali jurisdiction but in a foreign country to help address the problem, while saying all countries should adopt legislation to handle pirates who committed acts outside their territory.
Last November, Germany's first piracy trial in 400 years opened with 10 Somalis facing charges of hijacking a Hamburg-registered ship in the same area.
In June 2010, a court in the Dutch port city of Rotterdam jailed five Somali pirates over an attack on a cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden, the first conviction of its kind in Europe.
Three Malaysian ships have previously been seized. The Malaysian International Shipping Corporation, which operates the MT Bunga Laurel, and the country's navy joined forces in 2009 to man a vessel used to escort and protect shipping in the area.