Three accused Somali pirates [JURIST news archive] pleaded not guilty Wednesday to hijacking a US vessel that resulted in the deaths of four US citizens. Their charges included [AP report] murder, piracy, hostage taking and violence against maritime navigation resulting in death, among other charges. The men were charged earlier this month [JURIST report] in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website] and could face the death penalty, which is under consideration by US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website]. At the arraignment, each man requested a jury trial. Due to language barriers and the international nature of the crimes, the trial is expected to go into 2012.
The men are accused of hijacking a US yacht called Quest in February, an incident where four American citizens were taken hostage and later killed by the pirates. They were the first US citizens to die in the recent wave of international maritime piracy attacks. In March, a grand jury in the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia indicted 14 suspects, 13 Somali and one Yemeni, for hijacking the Quest. The Yemeni suspect pleaded guilty [JURIST report] in July and awaits sentencing scheduled for October. Several other suspects pleaded guilty [JURIST report] in May. Earlier this month, five Somali pirates went on trial [JURIST report] in a Dutch court for hijacking a South African yacht and kidnapping its crew. In April, a Somali pirate was sentenced [JURIST report] by the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] to 25 years in prison for attacking a Danish ship off the coast of Somalia in 2008, for which he and other pirates received a $1.7 million ransom. In May, courts in both Spain and South Korea [JURIST reports] sentenced Somali pirates to life imprisonment.