Piracy: Building International Partnerships To Bring Pirates to Justice

May 12, 2010
French Navy Intercept Suspected Pirates Off Somali Coast

About the Author: Andrew J. Shapiro serves as Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs.

Along the major maritime highway of the Gulf of Aden and Somali Basin, young men with second-hand weapons are sent to sea in skiffs to seize commercial vessels -- as well as shiploads of humanitarian food aid -- for ransom. The promise of this ransom money, combined with the perception of impunity for their criminal behavior, makes prosecutions a key component to curtailing piracy.

The U.S. Department of Justice's April 23 indictment of 11 suspected pirates -- as well as the ongoing prosecution of the surviving suspect in the April 2009 attack on the Maersk Alabama -- highlights America's commitment to delivering judicial consequences to suspected pirates. But we believe that there are many more states in the world capable of prosecuting pirates, especially in the immediate region where acts of piracy are occurring. For this reason, the United States is also committed to helping countries in the region strengthen their judicial systems and promote the rule of law -- a "win-win" proposition that can both help to combat piracy and yield significant long-term benefits for stability in the wider region.

Through the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, the United States has partnered with more than 50 nations and international organizations to work towards realizing Secretary Clinton's vision of a 21st century solution to the 17th century crime of piracy.

Since its creation in January 2009, the Contact Group has made several positive contributions toward significantly reducing the success rate of pirate attacks. The Contact Group helped establish a 20-nation joint naval patrol in the Gulf of Aden, and partnered with the International Maritime Organization and the shipping industry to develop simple, cost-effective self-protection measures that individual vessels can take to deter would-be attackers.

As we work to combat piracy's impact at sea, we are also working to address the conditions in Somalia that has allowed piracy to take root. To this end, the Contact Group on Piracy works in parallel with the UN's International Contact Group on Somalia in support of the Somali-led Djibouti Peace Process and Somalia's Transitional Federal Government.

The Contact Group is also engaged in efforts to find ways to enhance our ability to bring pirates to justice. In our view, prosecution in the region wherever feasible has significant benefits, compared to carrying out prosecutions thousands of miles away from the scene of the crime.

Although piracy is viewed as a universal crime in international law, bringing pirates to justice can be an incredibly complex proposition in today's globalized world. The realities of international shipping and global commerce are such that in a hypothetical piracy case you could have suspected Somali pirates intercepted and apprehended by a British naval vessel after trying to attack a Liberian-flagged ship, owned by a Canadian company, crewed by Ukrainians, Indians, and Filipinos, with a Russian captain and carrying cargo owned by a Turkish company, en route for delivery to a company in Dubai. And the case could be taking place in a courtroom in yet another country, like Kenya or the Seychelles, which are both currently prosecuting piracy cases. The logistical and diplomatic challenges presented by such a scenario are immense.

Some countries are already carrying a significant burden in this complex endeavor. We recognize and appreciate the contributions of countries such as Kenya and the Seychelles, and are working to support their prosecution efforts. For example, a U.S. Department of Justice attorney serves as Resident Legal Adviser at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi and assists ongoing efforts to prosecute suspected pirates captured by U.S. forces. The United States has also sent nine military service members to Kenya so far to provide testimony in these prosecutions. We also help to fund the efforts of the UN Office of Drugs & Crime (UNODC) to support Kenya, the Seychelles, and other states in the region with the prosecution and incarceration of pirates.

Another innovative capacity building solution recently established by the Contact Group is a UN Trust Fund to help defray the expenses of pirate prosecutions in regional or other courts. The fund was specifically created in such a way that the commercial shipping industry -- as well as states or other interested parties -- can provide financial support for the prosecution of suspected pirates.

But capacity building in the region is more than just enacting laws and training prosecutors. It also reflects a need for the infrastructure and logistical support necessary to any effective criminal justice system -- buildings, equipment, materials and vehicles to support piracy prosecutions.

Combating piracy must therefore be a collaborative effort that leverages not only our military strength and diplomatic engagement, but also the experience of the shipping industry, as well as a focused effort to bring pirates to justice. It is a complex endeavor, but one in which we are determined to succeed. Much work remains ahead, but so far, we are making solid progress in combating this shared security challenge.



United States
May 12, 2010

O.C. in U.S.A. writes:

I like my idea of training a Haitian Rescue Force. Cargo ships could pay collectively into a big fund that could go to train and build up a Haitian police/military corps. Courts could also be set up in Haiti which would bolster their current fledgling court system. The affected nations could agree on a strategy to rehabilitate suspected pirates and use them as counter spies. The Carribean is a good location due to its past pirate historical beginnings.

New York, USA
May 12, 2010

Ron in New York writes:

Piracy is growing into a multi-billion industry...allied with global organized crime....and moving ever closer to partnering with terrorist groups....we are not keeping up and we may see pirate-coup attempts in unstable...insecure African nations.

United States
May 13, 2010

O.C. in USA writes:

This is a very serious threat to the overthrow of democratic countries like the USA. If organized criminals have more money than some countries and organized criminals have infiltrated every aspect of America's political and social institutions, what is left of our fledgling democracy?


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