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Federal court indicts 14 suspected pirates

A grand jury in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on Thursday indicted [text, PDF] 14 suspects for overtaking a yacht containing four Americans. The Americans, taken as hostages, were later killed by the pirates, the first US citizens to die in the recent wave of international maritime piracy [JURIST news archive]. The suspects, 13 Somali and one Yemeni, were charged with piracy, conspiracy to commit kidnapping and the use of firearms during a crime. A juvenile who participated was not charged [WAVY report] due to his minor status and limited role in the hijacking. A conviction of piracy attaches a mandatory life sentence. In a press release [text], FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office Janice Fedarcyk [official profile] said:

Modern day piracy has real and serious consequences, disrupting commerce and threatening Americans' lives. It is a crime against the international community, a form of terrorism on the high seas. Today's charges should send a clear message to those who attempt to engage in piracy against Americans or American vessels: even on the open ocean, you are not beyond the reach of American justice.
Federal prosecutor Neil MacBride [official profile] stated that more charges could be filed. There have been seven convictions of pirates in the US, with five awaiting sentencing [JURIST report]. The other two received 30- and 34-year sentences [JURIST reports].

Piracy near the continent of Africa has become an increasingly serious problem for private shipowners and many nations. In January, the UN Secretary-General's special adviser on maritime piracy Jack Lang [official profile] proposed an international piracy court [JURIST report]. Due to the lack of such a court, several nations have been conducting piracy trials. A German court began the trial [JURIST report] of 10 suspected Somali pirates in that country's first piracy trial in 400 years in November. A Yemeni court sentenced [JURIST report] a group of 10 Somali pirates to five years in prison. Prior to these trials, Kenya was conducting the bulwark of piracy trials. However, the high court of Mombasa ruled that Kenya does not have jurisdiction [JURIST report] outside of its national waters, releasing nine suspected Somali pirates. Other nations that have conducted such trials include the Netherlands, Seychelles, Mauritius, Somalia, and Spain [JURIST reports].

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