A few weeks ago, I wondered what the United States would do in the wake of the apprehension of five suspected pirates by the crew of the frigate USS Nicholas, stating, "We must prosecute these criminals, wherever we can. If it takes bringing them thousands of miles from Somalia to face a judge, then so be it." I wrote that post worrying that suspected pirates would end up being sent home to Somalia, another manifestation of the 'catch and release' scenarios that have been too common in the past few years. Hopefully, this may not be the case.
It is being reported that the five men captured by the Americans may be sent to the U.S. to face criminal proceedings, probably in a federal court in Virginia (this is because the suspects attacked the USS Nicholas, which is homeported in Norfolk, Virginia). As for 16 other individuals currently being held by the US Navy aboard ships off the Horn of Africa, the CNN report says that 10 may be sent to Oman - because they had attacked an Omani-flagged vessel - while the remaining six may also end up in the U.S.
At the same time, other media reports say that Germany is preparing to prosecute 10 suspected pirates who had commandeered the German container ship MV Taipan, before being captured by Dutch marines. Those ten men have been flown to Europe by the Dutch and will be turned over to German authorities shortly.
Meanwhile, it also being reported that U.S. president Barack Obama has authorized the Treasury Department to go after the financial assets of individuals believed to be involved with piracy off Somalia (you can download the press release here). In the press release, the American president says that, "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...constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States, and I hereby declare a national emergency to deal with that threat." It is also being reported that the Treasury Department has a list of names of individuals whose assets they would freeze.
Taken together, the decisions to prosecute suspected pirates and to go after the money they may have acquired from their operations constitute a positive shift towards applying the rule of law to organized criminal entities preying upon mariners in that part of the world.
And as the various means to deter piracy finally come together, it would appear the criminals involved are aware of the situation, and possibly getting desperate. We've already seen pirates striking every further out to sea, into remote parts of the Indian Ocean. AllAfrica.com is now reporting that Somali pirates are targeting vessels hired by Somali businessmen, driving up the the price of foodstuffs in that country. Since most shipments into Somalia happen only because 'security money' has been paid to some warlord, it would seem that rival gangs are attacking these vessels, breaking whatever tacit agreement has existed between the groups previously.