New Article on the MV Montecristo Trial

CHO Contributor Marta Bo has published a new article in the Italian Yearbook of International Law on the interplay between national and international law in the MV Montecristo trial.

The MV Montecristo, an Italian flagged bulk carrier, was hijacked by pirates on 10 October 2011 in international waters in the Indian Ocean about 620 miles east off the Somali coast. After being captured by British RFA Fort Victoria, operating under NATO Operation Ocean Shield, the suspected pirates were handed over and taken into custody by the ITS Andrea Doria, the Italian unit contributing to Operation Ocean Shield.

For our previous posts on the MV Montecristo incident and trial before Italian courts, see here and here.

The article scrutinizes the complex relationship between international law and national criminal law in the prosecution of piracy. It questions the suitability of the UNCLOS definition of piracy as a standalone legal basis for detention in light of the requirements of legal certainty that must be satisfied to permit the arrest and the “pre-transfer arrest” of piracy suspects.

Here is the link to the article (subscription required).

Piracy in Corsica?

The French press reported recently a piracy attack off the South-West coast of Corsica, a French island in the Mediterranean Sea.  According to the press reports, the attack took place on February 16th, and the victim vessel was a French yacht, with three passengers (including the yacht owner) on board.  The four attackers were allegedly both masked and armed; they managed to quickly neutralize the yacht passengers and to lock them up inside the cabin.  After about three hours, the attackers forced the victims to embark on a smaller life boat (which had been attached to the larger yacht), and then abandoned them on the sea.  Luckily for the victims, they managed to reach the southern coast of Corsica safely, where they reported the attack.

While the reasons for the attack remain uncertain as of now, it is possible that the attackers were part of a yacht trafficking ring.  Such a ring existed during the last decade, between southern France, Corsica, and Tunisia, before it was successfully dismantled through law enforcement operations.  Piracy attacks in the Mediterranean Sea are of course virtually inexistent.  It was thus surprising to hear about reports of this attack.

Legally speaking, it is unclear whether this attack can properly be classified as “piracy.”  Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, an act of piracy has to be committed on the high seas – waters beyond the 12-nautical-mile territorial sea of the littoral state.  In this instance, the French press did not specify where the attack took place and whether it occurred in the French territorial sea or on the high seas (the article mentioned that the attack took place “near” the coast of Corsica).  If the attack did take place on the high seas, then we would be witnessing the incidence of piracy off the coast of France – something that the world has not seen in several centuries!