Monday, March 14, 2011

Pirates Sentenced In U.S. Court To Life In Prison

For the first time in over two hundred years, the United States has convicted individuals on the crime of piracy. As AFP reports, five Somali suspects today each received life sentences for their attack on a an American frigate last year (the USS Nicholas, see here). In a Norfolk, Virginia, court, the individuals also received an additional 80 years apiece for other charges, for whatever that's worth.

Able prosecution using the fullest legal means possible is part of dealing with the problem. The international community must not shy away from using the clearest - and most transparent - means available to address things. The rule of law is one of the thin wedges that keeps communal cohesiveness from spiraling into anarchy.

However, I still advocate the establishment of an international admiralty court to deal with suspected pirates, as this is a unique situation in the broader scheme of things. More to come, but this is a big advance.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Suspected Pirates Indicted In Virginia

Fourteen suspected pirates have been indicted by a U.S. federal grand jury in Norfolk, Virginia, relating to the attack on the yacht Quest. That incident ended on February 22 with the deaths of four Americans, Jean and Scott Adam (the owners of the yacht) and Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle. It's being reported that the suspects face charges of piracy, conspiracy to commit kidnapping and use of firearms. No member of the group has charged with murder, which may be because investigators are still trying to unravel what happened when the incident ended. Thirteen of the indicted suspects are said to be Somali, while the fourteenth is apparently Yemeni.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

More On Danish Yachters Seized By Pirates

It's being reported that the Danes seized by pirates last week, while sailing in their yacht, have been moved to another vessel. And the seven captives have apparently been split up, clearly to make it more difficult for forces to try to rescue them. What happened earlier last week with the four American yachters has obviously been noted by the pirates holding the Danes, which tells you a little about how much these maritime criminals communicate and follow the news.

Meanwhile, there are still have ill-informed postings about the situation, harping on that these Danes should never have been in the area. In a piece in today's National Post out of Canada, Araminta Wordsworth writes, "A Danish couple and their three children ignored warnings of Somali pirates when they elected to sail blithely into the Indian Ocean. Guess what? They got caught. Now they're getting little sympathy as they pray for rescue."

Wordsworth assumes many things here: That the children ignored warnings, that the pirates offered a warning, that no one cares about their plight and that the Indian Ocean - in toto - is the realm of pirates. Okay, I am really talking about semantics and bad journalism, but there is a broader point here.

As I said in an earlier post, there are responsibilities on various fronts here. But the criticism being thrown at these Danish captives is wrong, in my opinion. Change what Wordsworth wrote to something like, "An Asian crew ignored warnings of Somali pirates when they elected to sail blithely into the Indian Ocean. Guess what? They got caught. Now they're getting little sympathy as they pray for rescue."

That could describe the vast majority of mariners currently being held hostage by Somali pirates. The Danish yachters took a risk and got caught. But this is what the seafaring world deals with on a daily basis. In fact, as I've been told in many interviews, the professional world of global shipping considers piracy as just another cost of doing business.

The media criticisms should not be aimed at the Danes hijacked last week. They should be aimed at the shipping community that has allowed piracy off the Horn of Africa to grow while being written off as a bottom end deduction.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Libya & Piracy

As various nations, including Canada, dispatch forces to the Mediterranean to deal with the rebellion against Muammar Gaddafi, any observer of piracy off the Horn of Africa will wonder if those same elements might be deployed elsewhere once the crisis in that nation hopefully ends.

There will potentially be a lot of naval assets in the Gulf of Sidra soon. But if the situation in Libya does not require them, might they be deployed to the seas off the Horn of Africa? Seems likely, especially given recent events. Which would be apt, given Gaddafi's previous endorsement of Somali pirates (see here).

Yachters: Piracy Risks & Responsibilities

With the news that a Danish yacht was seized by pirates last Thursday, there has been concern raised about the fact among the seven aboard the vessel are three children, aged between 12 and 16. As Danish foreign minister Lene Espersen put it, "It's almost unbearable to know that children are involved, and I vigorously condemn the pirates."

On a Time online blog, an item was posted today that voiced what many others are thinking, with the writer wondering, "What astounds your humble correspondent is that many foreigners, mostly Europeans and Americans, still insist on adventuring in the shadow of the pirate threat, especially with their own children."

Seems a fair assessment on the surface, but ignores the fact that piracy is not confined to the Indian Ocean or seas off the Horn of Africa. Yachters face the risk of seaborne attacks in many other places, such as the Caribbean. In early December, a Canadian man was killed by attackers while anchored on his boat off the north coast of Honduras. As reported, he was shot in front of his 24-year-old daughter, who managed to get a passing commercial vessel to rescue her. (The yachter killed, Milan Egrmajer, was a retired veteran of the Canadian Navy, so was not unaware of maritime risks.)

Sailing in many parts of the world is fraught with potential trouble, from the weather to criminal activity, on shore and at sea. Nobody sails in a place like off the Horn of Africa without being aware of the risks. But should they be there in the first place?

Well NATO does not think so. On their shipping site (see here), they state, "Naval forces strongly recommend that yachts do not transit this area." And the European Union's Naval Force Somalia site says, "Yachts are strongly recommended to avoid the area."

So if you follow this thinking we should just concede the seas off Somalia to the pirates and go elsewhere. Except that the route through the Red Sea to and from the Suez Canal is a vital transit corridor, for pleasure boats as well as commercial vessels. And giving in to the pirates is the wrong approach.

Instead, recent incidents involving yachters mean that the various entities dealing with the situation in that part of the world need to amend their procedures. To simply attempt to safeguard commercial vessels while ignoring yachters is misguided. As the EU says (quoted on Noonsite), "Anti-piracy patrols by warships can only offer limited protection for yachts in the area. If you are boarded by pirates, the rules of engagement prevent EU naval forces from taking steps to rescue you."

Damn, that's a bitch.

As an EU member, hopefully the Danes will not throw up their hands and leave the most recently hijacked yachters left to their own devices. But they should also have released information about the seizure earlier than four days after it occurred, if only to give fair warning to any other vessels in the area the incident transpired.

It is time for the naval forces in the region to extend their protection to yachts and specifically provide convoy assistance to these boats. they may not be carrying hundreds of millions in commercial goods, but they are still mariners seeking free passage on the seas.

But it is also time for the yachting community to address this situation in a more cohesive manner. As the level of violence continues to rise in the region as a result of pirate activities, sailing in the area must be considered akin to venturing into a storm front.

Most are aware of the risks, and a good take can be found on the Cruising World site (see here), where a couple of yachters recently talked about the stress of sailing in piracy-prone waters.