Nairobi, Kenya — Kenya has agreed to help the European Union in dealing with maritime crime suspects in the region, amid a rising threat from pirate activity and attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels. The EU, which has a force operating in the Indian Ocean, is concerned that the insecurity which is also affecting ship traffic in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, is disrupting international trade.  

With threats to shipping on the rise in the Indian Ocean, Gulf of Aden, and the Red Sea, the European Union is asking Kenya for assistance in prosecuting suspected criminals caught in the region’s waters.

Henriette Geiger, the EU ambassador to Kenya, said the bloc is working with Kenya in dealing with suspected criminals caught in the region’s waters.

“Kenya would conclude a legal finished agreement with the European Union which would allow then EU Atalanta to drop, first seized arms, weapons but also traffickers, arms and drug traffickers, here for prosecution,” she said. “Seychelles has already agreed, they already have a legal finished agreement, but it’s a small island; they cannot stand alone.”

The EU’s Operation Atalanta is a military operation in the Horn of Africa that counters piracy at sea.

Geiger explained that the EU navy force lacks the authority to prosecute suspects and cannot detain them for long without charges. Therefore, countries like Kenya are needed to assist in prosecuting suspects.

Isaiah Nakoru, the head of Kenya’s Department for Shipping and Maritime Affairs, says his country is ready to work on issues that promote security and the free flow of goods and people.  

“We have to work together to ensure that we achieve the aspiration for ensuring there is sustainability and security, and all activities that threaten the livelihoods of people and movements of people have to be addressed in partnership with all those who have a stake,” he said.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Kenya is holding at least 120 suspected pirates and has convicted 18 of them.  

Kenya faced criticism about whether its legal system allows the prosecution of suspected pirates accused of having committed crimes far away from its territory. However, in 2012, a Kenyan court ruled the East African nation has jurisdiction to try Somali pirates carrying out attacks in international waters.

Andrew Mwangura is a consultant on maritime safety and security in Kenya. More than ten years ago, he helped negotiate the release of some pirate captives. He says Kenya will always face legal challenges in prosecuting suspects who have not committed a crime in its territory.  

“The problem is still the same because there are challenges to prosecution in Kenya of the Somali pirates,” he said. “This pirate activity happens away from Kenya. They do not happen in Kenyan waters, and there will be legal challenges. To prosecute, to arrest them, that’s not a solution. The solution is to fight illegal fishing in East African territorial waters.”  

Recently, there have been reports of piracy attacks off the coast of Somalia, sparking worries about the return of Somali piracy. In the early 2010s, Somali pirates hijacked dozens of ships, holding them for millions of dollars in ransom.  

Two weeks ago, six suspected pirates accused of attacking a merchant vessel were moved from Somalia to the Seychelles for trial by the EU naval force. Last Friday, the EU force freed a merchant ship and its 17 crew members.