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Four accused Somali pirates go on trial in South Korea

Four alleged Somali pirates [JURIST news archive] captured from a hijacked ship are being put on trial in South Korea, but lawyers for the pirates argue the court does not have jurisdiction to try them. South Korean forces captured five alleged pirates in a raid on a hijacked South Korean chemical freighter, the Samho Jewelry, in January in the Arabian Sea. The five alleged pirates were transferred back to South Korea where they were indicted. One pleaded guilty with the other four standing trial [Yonhap News report] in the Busan District Court, which has jurisdiction over the area in which the shipping company is located. But lawyers for the alleged pirates argue that the South Korean court does not have jurisdiction to try them since they never should have been transferred back to South Korea. They argue under the UN Convention on Law of the Sea [text] and other treaties that South Korea has the authority to arrest pirates but not transfer them. The pirates will be tried by a 12-member jury which can recommend a verdict to the judges. The trial has been delayed due to translation issues but is set to last five days with the verdict on Friday. The court will also rule on the jurisdiction issue when it gives its final verdict Friday. This is the first attempt by South Korea to punish pirates. Some of the alleged pirates on trial are believed to have been a part of a group [AFP report] that South Korea paid a $9 million ransom to retrieve another one of its ships.

The US is also putting alleged pirates on trial in attempt to control a wave of international maritime piracy. Last week, a Somali man pleaded guilty [JURIST report] to charges of piracy and hostage taking in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website] for overtaking a yacht containing four American citizens. The Americans, taken as hostages, were later killed by the pirates, the first US citizens to die due to the recent wave of piracy. Last month, a US district court sentenced a Somali pirate to 25 years in prison [JURIST report] for his role in attacking a Danish ship, as well as the US Navy's USS Ashland. In November, a federal jury in Virginia convicted [JURIST report] five Somali men on charges of piracy for their roles in an April attack on the USS Nichols. In August, piracy charges against six defendants were dismissed [JURIST report] when federal Judge Raymond Jackson ruled that piracy, as defined by the law of nations, does not include violence or aggression committed on the high seas, and rejected the government's argument for an expanded reading of the statute. Piracy remains an issue of international concern, as few countries have been willing to prosecute suspected pirates. The few that have attempted to do so include Germany, Seychelles, the Netherlands, Mauritius, Yemen, Somalia and Spain [JURIST reports].

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