Bringing Pirates to Justice

May 16, 2011
Joint U.S. Navy and Coast Guard Team Searches Vessel in Gulf of Aden

The United States has long recognized that any effective strategy against piracy off the coast of Somalia must include a plan to ensure that those who commit acts of piracy are held accountable for their actions. Secretary Clinton has called for a comprehensive review of our counter-piracy strategy and one key aspect of that policy review is enhancing our ability to prosecute and incarcerate pirates.

Today, almost 1,000 suspected Somali pirates detained by international naval patrols are in custody in 18 states around the world. This includes 28 suspects brought to the United States for prosecution in U.S. courts for attacks on U.S. vessels. Despite these efforts, we continue to face a number of challenges that hinder our ability to bring pirates to justice. In response, the United States is actively working with more than 60 nations and international organizations of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia to determine what more we can do.

Piracy has been successfully prosecuted in national courts for hundreds of years. Recent cases have shown that modern Somali piracy can be successfully prosecuted in ordinary national courts by any willing state with the basic judicial capacity to do so. But as we examine our strategy, one of the primary challenges we face is that too many states have lacked the sustained political will to criminalize piracy and prosecute suspects who seize their vessels and citizens for ransom.

Many states are understandably daunted by the prospect of prosecuting their first piracy case in modern memory. Still others have expressed concerns that it would be difficult to remove Somali national suspects from their territory in the event they are acquitted or, even if convicted, after they conclude any prison sentence. Many states, especially in the region, have become increasingly reluctant to accept suspects for prosecution because of limited prison capacity and the expense of long-term incarceration.

To address these challenges, first and foremost, we must continue to promote the criminalization of piracy under domestic law. The United Nations Security Council has repeatedly called -- in increasingly urgent terms -- on all states to criminalize piracy.

Second, we must work to expand prison capacity in the region, especially in Somalia. The UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is working to construct and refurbish prisons in Somalia's Puntland and Somaliland regions where convicted pirates could serve their prison sentences. Like many of our allies, the United States recognizes that increasing prison capacity will help to encourage more states to prosecute.

Third, we must continue to encourage consultations and information sharing among states prosecuting suspected pirates. This helps build confidence that successful prosecutions are possible and to enable states to learn from each other as we share the task of dismantling the pirates' criminal enterprise.

Fourth, since no one state or prosecution mechanism can or should shoulder the entire burden, there may be some advantages to establishing a specialized "piracy chamber" that operates under the national court system of one or more states in the region. For example, the Republic of Seychelles, which has prosecuted over 50 suspected pirates to date, has volunteered to serve as "regional prosecution center" on the condition that convicted pirates could then be transferred back to Somalia to serve their sentences.

Fifth, we must go after the leaders, organizers and financiers of piracy operations ashore. Over the past few years, it has become evident that Somali piracy functions as an increasingly well-organized criminal network. While we must continue to prosecute suspected pirates who we capture at sea, we must also undertake to track and locate the masterminds of these attacks, who may never leave shore. As pirate leaders are identified, we must press local authorities to apprehend and prosecute them and/or turn them over to other states for prosecution.

Finally, the international community -- including the private shipping industry -- must commit sufficient financial resources to fund these efforts. To help fund Contact Group initiatives and defray the expenses associated with the prosecution and incarceration of pirates, Contact Group participants supported the establishment of the Trust Fund to Support Initiatives of States Countering Piracy off the Coast of Somalia at the United Nations.

With the number of attacks continuing to rise, piracy remains a serious transnational challenge which we cannot afford to ignore.



Virginia, USA
May 20, 2011

Donald M. in Virginia writes:

The situation with the piracy is in dire shape. The United States should park an aircraft carrier 12 miles from the Somalia coast and when or if these pirates continue to try and steal, our jets can intercept them and sink the boats before they have a chance to steal or hijack crewmembers and valuable cargo. Having been in the US Navy the days of the big guns with battleships would of been ideal for this. It says in the bible, "Thou shall NOT steal" and there are consquences when you take something that does NOT belong to you.


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