Denmark Releases 3 Suspected Pirates Accused in Gunfight, Sends Them Away in Dinghy

Three suspected pirates were released onto a dingy after detainment on a Danish military vessel following a fatal gunfight off the West African coast.

The gunfight between the pirate's vessel and the HDMS Esbern Snare left four dead, three captured and one wounded. No Danish soldiers were injured during the fight. The vessel was assumed to have ties to piracy after a Seahawk helicopter reported seeing men with "equipment connected to piracy, including ladders."

The Danish government decided to release them rather than bring them to Denmark to face preliminary charges of attempted murder for the November 24th fight. The pirates were placed on a dinghy in international waters with enough food, fuel and water to reach land.

"We have no interest in getting the persons in question to Denmark," Justice Minister Nick Haekkerup said Thursday. He added, there was a "risk that they would not subsequently be deported."

Haekkerup called the case "unusual" and added, "they simply do not belong here. And that's why I think it's [releasing them] the right thing to do."

The fourth suspected pirate who was injured during the gunfight was first admitted to a Ghana hospital in December. His leg was amputated and for health and safety reasons it was impossible to leave him there or in the area, so he was transported on Jan. 6 to Denmark for a custody hearing and further prosecution.

He pleaded not guilty to attempted manslaughter of Danish soldiers and his lawyer, Birgitte Skjodt told a broadcaster she asked for the charges to be withdrawn, as happened with the other three suspects.

Foreign citizens found guilty of crimes in Denmark are often deported after serving their time, however some fight to stay. Others are unable to be extradited due to the lack of an extradition treaty between Denmark and their home country. The nationality of the pirates is unknown but assumed to be Nigerian.

The HDMS Esbern Snare is on an anti-piracy operation off the West Africa coast where the incident took place. Following the gun battle, the pirate vessel sank. Four of the suspected pirates were killed and one is missing, presumed drowned.

HDMS Esbern Snare
A picture taken on February 3, 2014, shows the Danish navy warship HDMS Esbern Snare outside the southern Cypriot coastal town of Larnaca. Danish and Norwegian vessels left the Cypriot port of Limassol Friday and headed towards Syria to escort a delayed shipment of chemical weapons for destruction, a spokesman said. Yiannis Kourtoglou/Getty Images

Later, because the ship is considered Danish territory, a Copenhagen court ordered the four held in custody while authorities investigate the case. In Denmark, preliminary charges are one step short of formal charges.

The Gulf of Guinea is one of the world's most dangerous waterways with regular kidnappings. In 2019, the region accounted for more than 90 percent of global crew member abductions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.