Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Somali "pirate" threatens to sue Germany

The ongoing issue of how to effectively prosecute those individuals suspected of having committed piracy on the high seas has had an odd twist added to things. According to EUbusiness.com, a Somali identified as Ali Mohamed A.D. had his lawyer file a lawsuit in Germany on Tuesday for, "what he called his inhumane treatment since being handed over to Kenyan authorities", according to court documents. His lawyer, Oliver Wallasch, is said to be seeking 10,000 Euros ($13,300 US) from the German government for damages incurred after his transfer to Kenya.

Ali Mohamed A.D. was one of nine suspected pirates captured by the German navy after a March 3 incident involving the MV Courier, a freighter owned by a shipping firm based out of Hamburg. As detailed by Speigel Online, the ship was sailing about 57 nautical miles off the Yemeni coast en route from Bremen to the UAE when it was approached by a speedboat. After taking evasive manoeuvres, individuals in the small craft opened fire on the Courier with automatic weapons and a bazooka. Though the attackers failed to stop the ship, they continued their aggressive actions until an American helicopter - responding to the freighter's Mayday - arrived on the scene and the skiff broke off its attack and headed towards Somalia.

As the Spiegel report continues: "The German frigate Rheinland-Pfalz, alarmed by the mayday call, had also sent a helicopter. The German chopper shot two salvos across the bow of the presumed pirates, but the bandits were not impressed. Only when the frigate approached close to their skiff did the Somalis surrender. After being taken into custody, the group's leader told the Germans that he was a human trafficker from Somalia, and that the weapons were for 'self-defense'."

The Somalis were later handed over to Kenyan authorities for prosecution, possibly sparing Germany the problem of how to handle the legal end of things themselves when it comes to piracy. But if they hoped they'd heard the last from the Courier's attackers, this lawsuit proves otherwise.

Ali Mohamed A.D. denies involvement in piracy in his lawsuit, which he bases on the deprivations that may await him in the Kenyan prison system. Jails like the Shimo la Tewa Prison in Mombasa are noted for their harsh conditions, though one has to wonder whether Ali Mohamed A.D. considered the possibility he'd end up in such a place before he set out with weapons to attack a merchant vessel.

His lawyer is likely looking at that the fact the commander of the Rheinland-Pfalz may have overlooked a crucial aspect of a criminal investigation: the securing of evidence necessary to prove the allegations. As Spiegel says about what happend after the Somali suspects were apprehended, "The frigate captain then proceeded to demonstrate that the German navy, though effective at sea, is relatively unversed in the requirements of modern criminal law. The crew was taken into custody, the skiff was searched, and the weapons found in it were seized and then sunk in the ocean - for security reasons, as the captain put it. Since then, the most important pieces of evidence - three bazookas, a Tokarev pistol, a carbine and a machine gun - have been lying on the seafloor of the Gulf of Aden, at an estimated depth of 1,800 meters (5,900 feet). The frigate captain's unauthorized disposal of the pirates' weapons has led to bad blood between the German government and the Kenyan judiciary. 'The criticism was repeatedly made that important items used in the crime - in other words, the weapons used - where thrown into the ocean,' read a cable from the German Embassy in Kenya." Oops.

Germany is not the only nation worrying about what to do with pirates once captured, and we've yet to find out what will become of the surviving Somali captor of the Maersk Alabama's captain, Richard Phillips. I hope the U.S. takes a more thorough approach in order to bring the full weight of the law against the suspected pirate. But I can't help but feel that we'll see more of these frivolous lawsuits as more pirates are apprehended.

Addendum: A comrade of Ali Mohamed A.D., one Mohamud Mohamed H., has filed an injunction with the Berlin administrative court aiming to force the German foreign ministry to cover the costs of a public defender in Kenya.

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