MUMBAI, Feb 1 – Fifteen suspected pirates face trial in India after naval and coastguard patrols intercepted their boat off the country\’s southwest coast, a senior police officer said on Tuesday.
Khalid Quaiser, in charge of ports with Mumbai police, said the men — 12 Somalis, two Ethiopians and a Kenyan — faced charges including attempted murder and possessing deadly weapons.
"They will stand trial here" as Indian sailors were threatened, he added.
The men face up to 10 years in jail if convicted, Quaiser said.
The group were held last week near the Lakshadweep Islands, off the coast of Kerala state, after the Indian navy and coastguard detained what was described as a "mother vessel" used to launch smaller boats or skiffs for attacks.
The larger ship, the Prantalay, was a Thai fishing vessel that itself had been hijacked several months earlier, India\’s defence ministry said.
Quaiser said he was surprised at the audacity of the suspected pirates, who have made shipping increasingly treacherous off the Horn of Africa and led to the deployment of an international force to protect the key maritime corridor.
"They came almost 2,000 kilometres (1,240 miles) off the coast of Somalia in search of targets and when we spoke to them they said they had been at sea for almost 18 days," he said.
"They were carrying AK-47 rifles and two rocket launchers. They were pretty well-equipped and very determined."
The incident comes after concerns voiced last month by US Vice-Admiral Mark Fox, who said that commercial shipping was under threat off India\’s coast and that pirates were using hijacked "mother ships" as floating bases for attacks.
He called for counter-terrorism tactics to combat pirates as they had extended their operations well beyond the coast of lawless Somalia and the reach of international naval patrols.