VICTORIA (Reuters) - The United States has handed over 15 suspected Somali pirates to Seychelles to stand trial, a move the Indian Ocean archipelago says is a clear signal of its determination to fight maritime attacks.
Finding a suitable place to try suspected pirates detained by foreign navies patrolling the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean has proved difficult on several occasions, and the gunmen are sometimes released.
Seychelles changed its laws last year to allow pirates captured anywhere beyond its territorial waters to be prosecuted, although it has turned down some requests, such as from Denmark in January.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the suspected pirates were detained in January when the U.S. Navy rescued 13 Iranian fishermen abducted in the Arabian Sea and held hostage for more than a month.
"We appreciate the Seychelles' regional leadership on counter-piracy, as seen in their willingness to prosecute and incarcerate Somali pirates," she said.
The United States flies surveillance drones from the Indian Ocean archipelago.
Seychelles Home Affairs, Environment and Transport Minister Joel Morgan said the island nation had the highest percentage of pirates in detention anywhere, with 20 percent of its prison capacity taken up by the seafaring gunmen.
Seychelles says it has 66 convicted pirates in its jails and another 37 suspects in detention.
"However, by accepting an additional 15 pirate suspects, Seychelles wishes to send a clear signal to the international community that it will continue to do its utmost in the fight against piracy and in bringing suspected pirates to justice," said a statement from Morgan.
Somali pirates are also holding two Seychellois fishermen captured last year.
Morgan said efforts were continuing to secure their release, though the pirates were making "impossible and unreasonable demands".
(Reporting by George Thande; Editing by David Clarke)