UPDATE: Convictions in First Italy Piracy Trial

The 9 month-long piracy trial for the 2011 hijack of the Italian bulk carrier MV Montecristo, the first in Italian modern history, concluded last week in Rome with the conviction of all 9 Somali accused to prison terms of 16 and 19 years. We previously reported about this trial and Italy piracy laws here.

The accused were found guilty of attempted kidnapping for extortion and illegal possession of firearms. As the crime of kidnapping was only attempted, the maximum penalty range of 25 to 30 years of prison foreseen by the Italian criminal code was reduced by one third. During the trial, the accused unsuccessfully sought to be tried in the UK, in light of having been initially apprehended by UK forces, and challenged their transfer to Italian authorities. In accordance with Italian laws, the motivations for the verdict will be published within 3 months. All accused are likely to appeal the sentence, with some indicating to be ready to take the matter up to the European Court of Justice.

Interestingly, the prosecutors’ claim of the pirates connections with Al-Shabaab and the attack on the Montecristo being aimed at financing its terrorist activities and foster a campaign of obstruction of the free maritime transit in the Indian Ocean was rejected. Once again, this confirms the very tenuous links between the pirates’ business model and terrorism. In its latest report, the Monitoring Group on Somalia also found no evidence suggesting a structural or organizational link between Al-Shabaab and Somali pirate networks.

Another piracy trial will start on 4 December 2012, concerning the attempted hijack of the Italian oil tanker MV Valdarno on January 2012, off the Omani coast. The 11 Somalis charged with this attempted hijack opted for a plea bargain and are likely to receive a substantially reduced prison sentence.

Update: Le Ponant Trial Judgement

Our readers might remember Valerie Gabard’s guest post on the recent trial for the 2008 hijack of the French luxury yacht Le Ponant and the kidnap of its crew. After four years of pre-trial detention, two of the six Somali accused were acquitted, while the four others were convicted and sentenced to four to ten years of imprisonment.

We have now obtained the trial judgement in the case, issued by the 2nd Section of the Court d’Assise of Paris. Contrary to initial speculations, it seems that the Prosecution have decided not to appeal the Court’s decision, which is therefore final. Unfortunately, the judgement won’t shed much light on the Court’s motivations. In keeping with French practice for criminal trials, the judgement, at least when looked at from the perspective of international justice standards, is scantily reasoned, containing little or no more than the accusations against the accused, a recall of the main trial procedural steps and the court’s verdict.

It has to be recalled that the accused were charged with kidnapping, illegal confinement and organized gang theft in pursuance of Articles 224-6 of the French Criminal Code but not with a specific offence of committing piracy due to the temporary absence, in 2008, of a specific definition of piracy in the French criminal system. In the meantime, a new Anti-Piracy legislation was introduced in January 2011.

Somalia Monitoring Group Report Now Available

The latest Report of the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia is now publicly available. The Monitoring Group is tasked to focus on the ongoing violations of the embargo imposed on Somalia since 1992 by the Security Council. The Group prepares reports of its activities, which are then submitted to the UN Security Council and its subsidiary Sanctions Committee on Somalia. The Sanctions Committee concerning Somalia was intially established to oversee the arms embargo and its violations. The mandate  of the Committee was then amended and modified by subsequent Security Council resolutions relevant to Somalia. In parallel, the Committee also oversees a sanction regime imposed on Eritrea. For further information, see here.

The Report, of over 300 pages in length, can be downloaded here. A previous unofficial dissemination of the Report generated a debate on the ongoing situation in Somalia, particularly concerning allegations of widespread corruption and collusion of government officials. Several aspects of the Report are also dedicated to the issue of piracy off the coast of Somalia. (See paras 38-50 and Annex 4). Interestingly, the Monitoring Group has found no evidence that would suggest a structural or organizational link between Al-Shabaab as an organization and Somali pirate networks.

“Somali-based piracy threatens not only the peace, the security and the stability of Somalia, but regional and international security as well. Although pirates have been more active than ever in 2011, the adoption of best management practices by the shipping industry, more effective international counter-piracy naval operations and the increasing use of private maritime security companies have substantially lowered the number of vessels successfully hijacked. As a result, pirates have to adapt and diversify, engaging in kidnap for ransom on land, and marketing their services as “counter-piracy” experts and “consultants” in ransom negotiations. This evolution of the piracy business model is being driven largely by members of the Somali diaspora, whose foreign language skills, passports and bank accounts are all valuable assets. But the Monitoring Group has also been able to confirm the collusion of senior Transitional Federal Government officials in shielding a notorious pirate kingpin from prosecution, providing him with a diplomatic passport and describing him as a “counter-piracy” envoy.”

According to the Monitoring Group, the situation appears particularly concerning in the autonomous Puntland region (see Annex 4.1). In particular, the Report discussed the much rumored Puntland Maritime Police Force, in connection with the use of private security companies operating on the ground in the region (See Annex 5.3).

The Report is also critical of the role of the international community, calling for a more robust commitment to investigate Somali piracy from a law enforcement perspective and to prosecute identifying key individuals who organize, finance or benefit from it, also singlying out a somewhat ambivalent role played by the UK in twarthing piracy.

“The UK Government’s ambivalent posture with respect to Somali piracy is illustrative of a more general international reluctance to tackle Somali piracy as a form of international organized crime, rather than as a sui generis product of Somali statelessness requiring custom-made military and custodial responses. Unless and until this attitude changes, international counter piracy efforts will continue to treat the symptoms of Somali piracy rather than the cause.”

Finally, the Report also discusses the role of private maritime security companies (See paras 72-74 and Annex 5.4) and the risk of some of these representing a potential new channel for the flow of arms into Somalia. In this regard, the Report expresses concern for the increasing use of “floating armouries” to store arms and ammunitions at sea.

“The Monitoring Group recommends that:

(a) The Committee should proceed without further delay to designate known pirates and their associates identified by the Monitoring Group or Member States for targeted measures;

(b) The Security Council should consider the possibility of establishing a specialized investigative group of experts with a mandate to collect information, gather evidence and record testimonies relating to acts of Somali piracy, including and especially the identification of pirate leaders, financiers, negotiators, facilitators, support networks and beneficiaries;

(c) The Security Council should consider making explicit reference, in its next resolutions on Somalia and piracy, to the Monitoring Group’s responsibility of investigating and identifying key individuals responsible for acts of piracy off the coast of Somalia, as well as the movement and investment of piracy proceeds, and call upon Governments, international organizations and national law enforcement agencies to exchange evidence and information with a view to the arrest and the prosecution of senior pirate leaders and their associates, or to their designation for targeted measures;

(d) The Security Council should consider options for the establishment of an international regulatory authority that regulates, monitors and inspects the activities of private maritime security companies operating floating armouries and providing armed protection to vessels in international waters.”

Incitement to Hunt al-Shabaab

Ahmed Abdi aw-Mohamed, founder of al-Shabaab

Last month, the U.S. State Department announced that it was offering rewards of $3-7 million for information that would lead to the senior leaders of al-Shabaab. See also, here. As Somali pirates continue to meet considerable resistance at sea, and successful pirate attacks see a precipitous drop, they are seeking new sources of income. This raises the possibility that they will seek to provide information about the whereabouts of al-Shabaab leaders pursuant to the State Department Rewards for Justice program. But there are potential legal obstacles to paying for information from pirates.

As some background, there continues to be debate as to whether members of al-Shabaab and Somali pirates are colluding with one-another. For example, in a recent trial in Italy, the prosecutors asserted that pirates had connections to al-Shabaab and planned on using the ransom proceeds to finance terrorist activities. Likewise, Kenya justified its initial incursions into Somalia based upon the assertion that recent kidnappings of tourists and aid workers in Kenya were the work of al-Shabaab (though some of these attacks were likely perpetrated by pirates with no political objective). There have also been assertions that the port of Kismayo, al-Shabaab’s most important source of income, was being shared by pirates. Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga has requested assistance from the EU naval mission to help to take Kismayo, but the EU has been reluctant because it considers the port to be an al-Shabaab stronghold and not a stronghold of pirates.

Readers of this blog will recall that in 2010, President Obama issued executive order 13536 imposing economic sanctions on suspected financiers of Somali piracy. Although this same executive order imposed sanctions on the organization of al-Shabaab, the preface specifically declared a national emergency to deal with “the deterioration of the security situation and the persistence of violence in Somalia, and acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea off the coast of Somalia.” Terrorism and al-Qaida were not mentioned, suggesting the economic sanctions were being targeted at pirates.

This brings us to the Rewards for Justice program and the list of seven senior leaders of al-Shabaab. Of this list, it appears that three individuals also appeared in the President’s executive order 13536 annex. Perhaps the economic sanctions had always contained a list of both pirates and al-Shabaab. Another possibility is that former pirates have joined the forces of al-Shabaab. Whatever the case, the State Department is prohibited by executive order 13536 from paying for information from the individuals named in the order. Considering the past confusion as to potential links between al-Shabaab and pirates, it will prove a challenging task to verify that a particular individual providing information is not affiliated with one of the individuals named in the executive order or with al-Shabaab. Even if information does not come from individuals specifically named in the executive order, the State Department will have to consider the possibility that reward money will go to finance pirate operations. In the end, it may be a case of the enemy of my enemy is my friend (at least for today). Regardless, the possibility that pirates could provide information as to the whereabouts of al-Shabaab’s senior leaders might be enough to prevent any future alliance between the two organizations.

The International Day of the Seafarer

Today, 25 June 2012 marks the second international Day of the Seafarer. This year, the IMO is asking people around the world to use the power of social networks to highlight the importance of the work of seafarersm and raise awareness of seafarers and their unique role. Everyone, regardless of where they live, can join the campaign online, in particular by commenting the Day of the Seafarer Facebook page at www.facebook.com/SeafarerDay.

“Seafarers leave their homes and families, often for long periods to ensure that essential items and commodities on which our lives depend arrive safely at our homes.” (IMO)

Seafarer often finds themselves under demanding and sometimes dangerous circumstances, particularly in pirate-prone areas. The following are some of the most significant findings from the recently released 2011 Oceans Beyond Pirates Report on the human cost of piracy in the Indian Ocean:

  • 3,863 seafarers were fired upon by Somali pirates with assault rifles and rocket propelled grenades;
  • 968 seafarers came into close contact with pirates, who managed to board their vessels;
  • 413 seafarers were rescued from citadels;
  • 1,206 hostages were held captive by Somali pirates;
  • 555 seafarers were taken hostage in 2011; 645 hostages were captured in 2010 and remained captive during 2011; 6 tourists and aid workers were kidnapped on land;
  • 35 hostages died as a result of pirate captivity in 2011;
  • Average length of captivity was 8 months.

These findings are particulary concerning and demand continuing attention and engagement from all stakeholders in the maritime field. Several initiatives have been launched to support the plight of kidnapped seafarers and their families. Among those, is Save Our Seafarers which runs an on-going worldwide awareness campaign to raise the profile of Somali piracy in political and media circles, in order to see Somali piracy deterred, defeated and eradicated, and to stop seafarers being tortured and murdered.