The authorities in Germany said Monday that they had arrested a man, identifying him only by the initial “M,” who had acted as the accountant for a band of Somali pirates who hijacked a German oil tanker three years ago.
The man, who “partially confessed,” according to a police statement, is believed to have been responsible for “the bookkeeping, which was the basis for the proportional division of the ransom between the participating pirates.” He faces a potential prison sentence of 5 to 15 years on charges of kidnapping and grievous bodily harm.
“This is another outstanding and international success against sea piracy,” Uwe Kolmey, the president of the state police in Lower Saxony, said in the statement. He singled out the investigators for their “meticulous search for evidence” on the tanker after the ordeal.
The suspect, arrested Wednesday, was initially found with false travel documents at a refugee center in the city of Giessen, the authorities said. His fingerprints, they said, matched prints collected on the ship, the Marida Marguerite.
The police released a photograph of a crime scene investigator in a surgical mask, a white suit and green gloves kneeling next to empty cans and other refuse on the deck of the ship. The man being held was responsible for provisioning the ship with food as well as dividing millions of dollars in ransom money, the authorities said.
International forces patrolling the waters off the Horn of Africa have sharply reduced the number of pirate attacks over the past year and a half. According the European Union naval force, only five ships were successfully captured last year and none so far this year, compared with a 47 ships in 2010, the year the Marida Marguerite was taken.
A group of armed men fired on the German ship with machine guns and rockets off the coast of Oman before seizing the tanker and capturing its 22 crew members in May 2010. During an ordeal that lasted months, the crew members said, they were chained to chairs for days, tortured by their captors and terrorized with simulated executions.
The ship and its crew were finally ransomed in December 2010 for a sum the authorities described as several million dollars.
A federal jury in Virginia convicted a Somali man last year for his role as the hostage negotiator in the hijacking of the German tanker, as well as in the hijacking of an American yacht in which all four Americans aboard were shot to death.
A court in Hamburg convicted 10 Somali men of piracy in October in what was said to be the first trial of pirates in Germany in centuries.