Weekly Piracy Review

Somalis on Trial for Piracy in Rotterdam

Kenya’s Court of Appeals overturned a 2010 ruling (as we have noted here and here), which had mandated that Kenyan courts only try cases in which the offense occurred within its territorial waters. This impaired Kenya’s ability to assist in the international effort to punish those carrying out acts of piracy on the high seas. Judge David Maraga read the opinion of the court concluding that “piracy has negative effects on the country’s economy and any state, even if not directly affected by piracy must try and punish the offenders.” Though it appears some piracy prosecutions were continuing in Kenya despite the 2010 ruling, the international community will be relieved to know that the law in Kenya is now settled and that no obstacles remain to such prosecutions.

Dutch court convicted nine Somali pirates to four-and-a-half years imprisonment. These individuals were arrested on-board an Iranian fishing boat they had taken in April. Though they were convicted of piracy, the men were acquitted on charges of attempted murder, as it could not be determined which of the men actually fired at the Dutch marines who arrested them.

Last Friday the Greek-owned carrier ship, the MV Free Goddess, was finally released by the Somali pirates who held it since Feb. 7, 2012. All 21 members of the crew who were on board at the time the ship was attacked over eight months ago were also released and appear to be well. The pirates responsible initially sought a $9 million ransom, yet they finally settled for $2.3 million last week-though the figure has also been reported as $5.7 million. This figure was stated by a Somali pirate and has not been confirmed by the company owning the ship, Free Bulkers SA. The ransom was air-dropped onto the Free Goddess, which then headed toward Oman to refuel, get fresh water and change out the crew members. During the time the ship was held hostage it was apparently being held at Gara’ad, a haven in Puntland, Somalia often used by pirates in the area.

Suspected Nigerian pirates boarded a Panamax tanker in the Gulf of Guinea off the Ivory Coast during the night on Saturday, October 6. Fourteen pirates, armed with knives and AK-47s hijacked the ship and re-directed it to Nigerian waters. They held the ship for three days while siphoning off oil, and then released the ship as well as all crew members on October 9. This attack was particularly alarming as it is the first of its’ kind to be reported in these waters, and shows that the Nigerian pirates are becoming both more sophisticated and bold. The attack occurred further west and away from Nigerian waters than any other reported attack, in an area which until now was believed to be safe for anchoring and performing fairly time-consuming operations. These Nigerian pirates took advantage of the fact that this particular ship was only midway through a ship-to-ship operation at the time of the attack. Tanker operators may now have to reassess their practice of carrying out these operations in the waters of the Ivory Coast.

Weekly Piracy Review: Renewed Attacks

As monsoon season is coming to a close, it appears this week that pirates are returning to the waters of the Indian Ocean. On Wednesday night the ITS San Guisto, the flagship vessel of the EU Naval Forces, captured seven suspected pirates who were spotted on a small boat in the sea off the coast of Somalia. While in the area as part of a counter-piracy mission, the crew of the San Guisto noticed that the small boat was carrying a ladder and many oil drums [which were found to be full of oil and water, allowing the boat to stay in open water longer]. It is atypical for small boats to carry such large ladders; this indicated that the boat was at sea with the intent of hijacking a merchant vessel. The commander of the forces on the warship noted that this was the first sighting of a pirate vessel in these waters for more than three months.

On Thursday another seven suspected pirates were apprehended in the Arabian Sea off the coast of Somalia. After ambushing the Spanish ship Izurdia off the Horn of Africa, the skiff carrying the pirates was intercepted and boarded by a helicopter team deployed from the Dutch amphibious transport the HMS Rotterdam. The Rotterdam has patrolled the waters around the Gulf of Aden since July in an effort to ward off piracy as part of NATO’s campaign to thwart the problem in the region. As of this posting there are very few details regarding the attack carried out on the Spanish ship.

Last Friday twelve armed pirates boarded a German-owned tanker off the coast of West Africa, removing the ship’s stores of oil to their barge. These suspected pirates then held the crew for one day while they raided the ship. Before disembarking, the pirates locked all crew members in the master’s cabin. Some of the crew members did sustain minor injuries during the ordeal, but it appears that there were no hostages or casualties.

According to the ICC‘s International Maritime Bureau, so far in October there have been six reported pirate attacks or attempted attacks on merchant vessels.  These attacks have occurred off the coasts of Egypt, Somalia, Togo, the Ivory Coast, Bangladesh, and Indonesia. Though maritime piracy has experienced a lull in recent months, authorities continue to urge those operating vessels in the waters of the Indian Ocean to remain vigilant against renewed attacks. At this time it appears that pirates hold eleven vessels and about 188 hostages from those vessels.

Weekly Piracy Review: International Cooperation

This week the 8th Heads of Asian Coast Guard Agencies Meeting convened in New Delhi. Defense Minister A.K. Antony asserted India’s commitment to bolstering security against a myriad of threats in the Indian Ocean, and specifically addressed the continued need for anti-piracy efforts. Antony emphasized the need for cooperation among countries to implement international laws in the region in order to combat the ever-changing effects of problems such as maritime piracy.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) began a maritime forum in Manila on Wednesday, and is scheduled to run through today. Topics for discussion included maritime security and piracy. In addition to discussion regarding territorial disputes over islands in the South China Sea, the members are likely considering an initiative proposed by the Philippines to facilitate information exchange and sharing among nations. The hope is that this exchange will provide timely information to allow law enforcement agencies to effectively combat security threats such as piracy.

The Indian government authorized training of Navy Special Forces to deploy Marine Commando squads on merchant ships. These squads will be authorized to carry long-range weapons, and will travel with ships in the Indian Ocean extending to the sea around Somalia in an effort to alleviate piracy concerns. Currently merchant ships in the area rely on private security companies to prevent successful piracy efforts in taking hostages and seizing cargo. So far the reliance on private security guards has been effective, as no ship with armed guards has been successfully hijacked. This situation is by no means perfect, as the level of training and experience of these private guards is widely varied, and can lead to uncertainty and nervousness when the guards are thrust into a hostile situation. As India begins to allow trained military on-board merchant vessels it shall be seen whether this will be an effective approach.

Weekly Piracy Review – Chinese and Malay Prosecutions

This week Matteo blogged about Burmese drug runner Naw Kahm and his gang pleading guilty in court in China last week to charges for their attack on Chinese boat crews on the Mekong river in the Golden Triangle area where the borders of Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand come together.

7 Somalis are facing Piracy charges in Malaysia source:BBC News

It was also widely reported this week that the number of attacks by Somali pirates on commercial vessels is so far decreased this year from the numbers seen between 2009 and 2011 (46 and 47 vessels were hijacked in 2009 and 2010 respectively, and in 2011 a record 176 vessels were attacked – though only 25 were commandeered). So far in 2012 Somali pirates have seized only five vessels. It would be rash, however, to assume that this indicates the era of Somali piracy is coming to an end. According to the EU Navy, Somali pirates still hold seven ships and 177 crewmembers. Additionally, the monsoon season in the Arabian Sea, which generally limits the movement of ships in the area, is nearly over. With calmer seas ahead it will likely be crucial that the cooperative military efforts, increased communication between merchant ships and patrols, and heightened defenses and vigilance on the ships in the area remain in place.

Finally, there were important new developments in the prosecution of seven suspected Somali pirates being held in Malaysia occurred on September 26. After extensive delays in the trial proceedings due to efforts to procure attorneys and interpreters for the Somali defendants in Malaysia, on Wednesday, prosecutors offered a plea bargain to the seven pirates suspected of hijacking the MT Bunga Laurel in the Arabian Sea. Originally charged with firing at Malaysian armed forces while committing a robbery, an offense punishable by death, the seven defendants now have the opportunity to plead to guilty to lesser charges. The bargain offered is to enter a guilty plea for using weapons with the intent to prevent arrest, which carries a maximum sentence in Malaysia of 14 years imprisonment.

These seven men are charged with attacking the Malaysian tanker in the Gulf of Aden in January of 2011. While en route to Singapore the tanker, which was carrying oil worth an estimated $10 million, was attacked by a group of pirates. Allegedly, the men suddenly boarded the tanker at night, armed with AK47s. The 23 members of the crew locked themselves in a safe room on board and activated an emergency distress signal, which was picked up by a Malaysian Naval vessel patrolling the Gulf at the time. Two hours later the vessel, along with a Malaysian attack helicopter, arrived at the commandeered MT Bunga Laurel. After a shootout between the Malaysian armed forces and the seven pirates on board the ship, all seven were taken into custody.

So often it is the case that those suspected of piracy are released after being apprehended, as it is difficult to locate a court where they may be tried. After rejecting a motion to dismiss on the grounds that the events took place in international waters, the State of Malaysia asserts jurisdiction over these men based on the fact that the alleged acts of the accused of threatened the security of Malaysian citizens i.e. jurisdiction was based on the protective principle.

The trial has been put on hold until October 8, 2012 to allow the suspects a chance to determine whether they will accept the plea bargain offered to them this past week. Their decision will likely result in further questions of the application of Malaysian law to Somali citizens, whether they decide to settle or seek trial. We will provide updates in future Weekly Piracy Reviews.