11 Somali pirates could face life behind bars in the US

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11 Somali men are being held for trial in a U.S. federal court on charges of piracy in the Gulf of Aden, where piracy threatens human lives and disrupts international commerce, and according to U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride, those who commit acts of piracy will be brought to justice.

Federal grand juries in Norfolk, Virginia, returned indictments against the 11 men from Somalia for maritime piracy in sea lanes in the Gulf of Aden off the Somali coast, according to MacBride’s office. The men had been arrested and turned over to federal authorities in Norfolk by the U.S. Navy, which took them into custody following attacks in late March and early April.

“When pirates attack U.S. vessels by force, they must face severe consequences,” McBride said.

In two separate incidents, the men attacked two U.S. Navy warships, the Nicholas and the Ashland, thinking they were attacking merchant ships. Both ships are home ported in the Norfolk area, and were participating in international counterpiracy efforts. Maritime piracy has become a significant criminal activity and threat to maritime safety off the Horn of Africa. Piracy there also threatens the flow of humanitarian aid and global commerce in one of the world’s busiest shipping corridors.

The United States is partnering with the shipping industry and more than 50 nations and international organizations through the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia to carry out Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s vision of “a 21st-century solution to this 17th-century crime.” This unique international partnership is contributing toward the decreasing successes of pirate attacks, most notably through a multinational naval patrol of more than 20 countries, including the United States, China, India and Russia, as well as NATO and European Union partners.

According to the first indictment, five men — Mohammed Modin Hasan, Gabul Abdullahi Ali, Abdi Wali Dire, Abdi Mohammed Gurewardher and Abdi Mohammed Umar — left Somalia in search of a merchant ship to pirate. They allegedly used two small vessels loaded with assault weapons and a rocket-propelled grenade. The small vessels served as attack boats and were accompanied by a larger vessel carrying supplies.

On March 31, three of the men — Hasan, Ali and Dire — boarded one of the smaller boats and set out to plunder what they thought was a merchant ship, but which turned out to be the USS Nicholas, a guided missile frigate, according to the federal indictment. The three men attacked the ship with their weapons, and the other two men remained on the larger ship during the attack.

In a second five-count indictment, six men – Maxamad Cali Saciid, Mohammed Abdi Jama, Jaamac Ciidle, Abdicasiis Cabaase, Abdirasaq Abshir and Mahamed Farraah Hassan — were charged with piracy involving the USS Ashland on April 10 in waters off Djibouti.

All 11 men were charged with piracy, which carries a mandatory penalty of life in prison in a federal court. The attacks were investigated by FBI agents from field offices in New York and Norfolk, and by the Norfolk field office of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Prosecution of the 11 men will be handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Norfolk.

Patrols thwart pirate attacks

Because of continuing international naval patrols, pirate attacks around the world dropped by 34 per cent in the first quarter of 2010 compared with a year ago, according to a report published April 21 by the nonprofit International Maritime Bureau. The bureau cited a significant decline in attacks in the Gulf of Aden off the east coast of Somalia, where NATO ships and others patrol.

In this area alone, 17 incidents were recorded in the first three months of 2010 compared with 41 in the same period last year. Somali pirates are now expanding their reach from the Gulf of Aden to the coasts of Kenya, Tanzania, the Seychelles, Madagascar and Oman. Somali pirates carried out 35 of the 67 hijackings recorded so far in 2010.

Approximately 20,000 cargo ships a year sail to and from Egypt’s Suez Canal carrying one-tenth of world trade off Somalia’s east coast and the Gulf of Aden.

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