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Federal appeals court rules on legal definition of piracy

The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website] ruled Wednesday that the legal definition of maritime piracy [JURIST news archive] includes an armed attack to hijack a ship, even if the attempt is unsuccessful. In one case, the court upheld [opinion, PDF] the convictions and life sentences [JURIST reports] of five Somali pirates who attacked the USS Nicholas [official website] in April 2010. The appeals court rejected their contention that the definition of piracy as defined by the law of nations under 18 USC § 1651 [text] does not include violence or aggression committed on the high seas. In a second case, the court overturned [opinion, PDF] a lower court decision to dismiss piracy charges [JURIST report] against five Somali men accused of involvement in the April attack on the USS Ashland [official website] in the Gulf of Aden. The appeals court remanded the case to the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website].

A number of countries around the world have been making attempts to solve the problem of maritime piracy. Earlier this week a United Arab Emirates court sentenced 10 Somali pirates [JURIST report] to 25 years in prison. Also this week six accused Somali pirates went on trial [JURIST report] in a Paris court for taking 30 crew members hostage in 2008 on the ship Le Ponant in the Gulf of Aden. The US government in March handed over [JURIST report] 15 suspected Somali pirates it captured in January to the Republic of Seychelles for prosecution. Italy ordered its first international piracy trial in February against nine Somali pirates, while France began its first international piracy trial [JURIST reports] in November. In October the UN Security Council adopted a resolution encouraging states to criminalize and punish piracy after maritime piracy reached an all-time high [JURIST reports] last year. The UN also donated $9.3 million [JURIST report] in 2010 to fund piracy courts in Seychelles and Kenya, the only two countries that have created such courts.

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