American Elephants

When Is a Pirate Not Really a Pirate? by The Elephant's Child
August 23, 2010, 1:19 pm
Filed under: Africa, Law, National Security | Tags: , ,

Six Somali men were alleged to have fired on U.S. naval warships in the Indian Ocean. They were captured, and brought to the Virginia civilian court of federal judge Raymond A. Jackson, to be tried for piracy, under Section 1651 of the federal penal code.   Judge Jackson was appointed to the bench by President Clinton in 1993.

U.S Attorney Neil MacBride explained:

“since the earliest days of this country, piracy has been a serious crime…privacy threatens human lives and disrupts international commerce. When pirates attack U.S. vessels by force, they must face severe consequences.”

But Judge Jackson looked at Congress’s definition of piracy.  Instead of spelling out just what constituted piracy, Congress referred to “the crime of piracy as defined by the law of nations.”  The judge looked at a Supreme Court case from 1820 (United States v. Smith) that involved robbery on the high seas, in which the Court ruled that such a robbery fit the law of nations concept of piracy.  That does not eliminate attempts, conspiracies or other forcible acts.  But the judge decided that pirates have to succeed in robbing or killing to be a pirate.  If they try and fail, then they aren’t pirates.

Attacks in international waters are one of the very few reasons to have “a law of nations.”  But courts have become willful, and like to make law — the duty assigned to the Congressional branch — rather than just apply it. You can see why they used to just string pirates up from the yardarm.

What do you do with a Somali pirate? Hang ’em from the yardarm or consign ’em to Davy Jones locker? by The Elephant's Child

In earlier days, first you did the former, then the latter.  Today the problem is more difficult. There are ships and crews held for ransom for months. The 25-man crew of the Sirius Star had been held for two months.  The U.S. Navy released a film of a canister of cash — supposedly $3 million — being parachuted onto the deck of the oil supertanker.

The pirates originally wanted $16 million, but settled for 3.  Then the story gets a little fuzzy.  One account says they squabbled over the loot, then a wave washed over their getaway boat and drowned five of them.  The picture, however shows a placid sea with no storm on the horizon.

Now it is reported that one pirate washed ashore with $153,000.  Another account says the other three swam to shore.  A third claims that Somalis traveling along the shore have slowly collected dollars floating in on the tide.

The U.S. Navy is in charge of a task-force designed to prevent such piracy.  Some ships have contracted with Blackwater to protect them.  Because there is essentially no government in Somalia, there is no law to deal with them.  Pirate movies are all very well, but this is not a story of adventure or heroics, and possibly not even truth.  But there you are.

Everything old is new again. by The Elephant's Child

Pirates have seized a Saudi-owned supertanker leaded with more then $100 million worth of crude oil off the coast of Kenya — the largest ship ever hijacked according to U.S. Navy officials. Somali pirates have become increasingly brazen, but this is the first time they have attacked a fully laden oil tanker. “This is unprecedented” the International Herald Tribune quotes a spokesman for the Fifth Fleet, Lt. Nathan Christensen.  “Its the largest ship that we’ve seen pirated.  It’s three times the size of an aircraft carrier.” The supertanker, the Sirius Star, was hijacked more than 450 nautical miles southeast of Mombasa, Kenya, far to the south of previous attacks.  Pirates range over an area from the Gulf of Aden to the Kenyan coast, more than a million square miles.  Most ships do not have heavy security, while the pirates are fast and well armed.  And most are taken for ransom. Shipping firms are usually prepared to pay, for the sums demanded are still low compared with the value of the ships and their cargo. This seems like a remote crime — piracy in 2008? But the International Chamber of Commerce keeps track of Commercial Crimes.  Here is a map of piracy incidents just in 2008. Once it was the Barbary Coast pirates, but now apparently everything old is new again.

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