The US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website] sentenced five Somali pirates to life sentences on Monday for attacking the USS Nicholas [official website]. Maritime piracy [JURIST archive] carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison [AFP report]. The men received an additional 80 years each for firearms and other piracy-related charges. US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website] Neil MacBride expressed approval [press release] of the tough sentencing:
Today's sentences should send a clear message to those who attempt to engage in piracy: Armed attacks on U.S.-flagged vessels carry severe consequences in U.S. courts. Modern-day pirates not only threaten human lives but also disrupt international commerce by extorting hundreds of millions of dollars in ransom payments. It is believed that between 650 to 800 people are held hostage by Somali pirates and that the global cost of piracy is as high as $12 billion annually.Last week, US District Judge Mark Davis rejected an appeal by the men to overturn their convictions [AP report]. The defense had argued that the men did not board or rob the frigate and cited a Congressional Research Service [official website] report that suggested that the 1819 definition of privacy may be outdated. Davis rejected this argument, citing that the report did not contain any original substantive legal analysis.
The five men were convicted on charges of piracy [JURIST report] in November, the first such conviction in the US in nearly 200 years. The men were found guilty on charges of piracy, attacking to plunder a maritime vessel and assault with a dangerous weapon for their roles in an April attack on the USS Nicholas, which was deployed to combat piracy in waters off the eastern coast of Africa. Last week, the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia indicted 14 suspects [JURIST report] for overtaking a yacht containing four Americans. The case involves the first US citizen to die in recent wave of international piracy. 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].