World Legal News: International Pirates

In the U.S. the word pirate conjures up images of Johnny Depp, and the Disneyland ride; at its most serious, we think of pirating software or music files. But the incidents of real pirates are hijacking ships and kidnapping people are increasing. “[T]he Piracy Reporting Center of the International Maritime Bureau, found that pirates had taken 1,181 people hostage and killed 8 in attacks on 445 ships over the course of 2010” (Goodman). The hostages are mostly fishermen and crewmen from cargo ships.

Their sphere of operation now stretches “from Oman on the Arabian Peninsula to Mozambique, more than 2,500 miles (4,000 kilometers) away in southeastern Africa” (Yoong).

In Somalia, the unstable government and widespread poverty have led many young people to join the dangerous but lucrative world of piracy
(Piracy at Sea). Although the shipping route through the Indian Ocean is clearly unsafe, global businesses risk the lives of workers from developing countries every day because the financial cost to corporations of the loss of human lives is small compared to the financial benefits of shipping food globally (Huang).

Naval military forces from China, Japan, Britain, Malaysia and South Korea have been doing battle with and in some instances capturing Somali pirates, however, unless pressed to destroy the pirate ships during battle, their response is often limited to disarming the pirates and releasing them in exchange for some of the many civilian hostages (Huang; Yoong; Hughes & Martinez ).

Although the U.S. navy incidentally destroyed a pirate ship that fired on a Warship, officials claim that they are too busy doing military exercises and searching for drug smugglers and terrorists to rescue ships from pirates (Hughes & Martinez).

Although Kenya and the Seychelles routinely prosecute pirates, last November, the “US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia began the first US piracy trial in more than 100 years” (Somali parliament blocks; Hilema ). Malaysia also intends to prosecute pirates, but for jurisdictional reasons,
pirates cannot always be prosecuted in the courts in which they appear (Piracy at Sea).

An international piracy court would solve the jurisdictional problem, and it is being proposed by the “UN Secretary-General’s special adviser on maritime piracy Jack Lang, [who] warned Security Council members on Monday that more needs to be done to bring Somali pirates to justice, proposing an international piracy court (Hilema). Lang has developed an extensive plan
for how to respond to the pirates, he has “proposed a series of far-reaching
measures to the Security Council [ ] on how to lift the legal constraints to
prosecute and imprison the pirates and criminalize their sea-borne raids in all
States” (In Race between).

A local tribunal for prosecuting Somalian pirates in Somalia was proposed, but the legislation was blocked by the Somali parliament in early January, in part because, the “text [of the bill] on the punishment of pirates is not compatible with Islam” (Somali parliament blocks ).


J. David Goodman, Piracy Reached Record Level in 2010, Monitors Say, N.Y.
, Jan. 18, 2011,

Ashley Hilema, UN expert calls for international maritime piracy court, Jurist, Jan. 25, 2011,

Carol Huang, Pirates must be pursued in court: UAE, The National, Jan. 18, 2011,

Dana Hughes & Luis Martinez, Piracy Watchdogs Urges Navies to Fight Back: Shipping Companies Must Protect Themselves, abc News International,
Nov. 20, 2008,

In Race between Pirates and International Community, Pirates Clearly Winning, Secretary-General’s Top Legal Adviser on Piracy Warns Security Council; Secretary-General’s Top Legal Adviser on Piracy Warns Security Council; Pirates Expanding Geographic Reach in More Sophisticated, Better Organized; Attacks, Says Jack Lang, Seeking Prosecution of Sea-borne Raids in Domestic Courts, MMD Newswire, Jan. 26, 2011, available at

Piracy at Sea, N.Y. Times, Nov. 10, 2010,

Somali parliament blocks piracy bill, AFP, Jan. 18, 2011,

Sean Yoong, Malaysia, SKorea seek to charge 12 Somali pirates, The
Associated Press
, Jan. 25, 2011,

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