Page last updated at 13:24 GMT, Saturday, 24 April 2010 14:24 UK

Eleven suspected Somali pirates charged in US court

Drawing of defendants in court
The suspects appeared in two groups in a Virginia court

Eleven suspected Somali pirates have been charged in a US court over two attacks on US naval vessels.

The charges include piracy, attacking to plunder a maritime vessel, and assault with a dangerous weapon.

The men did not enter a plea and spoke only to say they understood proceedings against them, AP news agency reported.

After they were captured, the group was kept aboard US Navy vessels off the Somali coast while officials decided what to do with them.

At the Virginia courthouse, one suspect was on crutches and had his head bandaged, while another was in a wheelchair and had one leg bandaged because it had been amputated below the knee, AP said.

The US government said the injuries resulted from the men's alleged battle with the Navy.

Piracy trials

Five of the defendants were captured on 31 March after they allegedly fired at a US Navy ship from their boat, west of the Seychelles.

USS Nicholas (file photo)
The USS Nicholas exchanged fire with a suspected pirate vessel on 31 March

According to court documents, they apparently mistook the guided-missile frigate USS Nicholas for a merchant ship.

The other six were arrested in waters near Djibouti on 10 April after allegedly shooting at the USS Ashland, an amphibious vessel.

Both incidents involved US warships taking part in an international anti-pirate effort off the east coast of Africa.

The US legal process comes after Kenya - Somalia's neighbour - said it was planning to stop piracy trials, arguing that it was an international issue and they should not be left to bear the burden alone.

Pirates operating off the African coast have intensified attacks on shipping in recent years and have expanded their reach towards India, despite patrols by the US and other navies.

With piracy increasing, some have called for international courts to be set up to deal with the problem.

Last year, the US charged a Somali teenager with piracy after he allegedly tried to seize a US ship in the Indian ocean.

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