Monday, November 29, 2010


In 1861, during the US Civil War, a group of sailors who were caught preying on Northern merchant vessels were captured. These men were acting as privateers, which is a sort of state-sponsored pirate with a "letter of marque" that allows them to be legal pirates acting against an enemy of the state (the US Constitution permits congress to still issue these, although they haven't for over a century).

The North refused to recognize the South as a legal entity, and tried the men as pirates. The jury deadlocked and eventually the men were traded to the South for prisoners of war (officers, naturally). And that was the last time pirates have been tried in the United States for almost a century and a half.

Now, five Somali pirates have been found guilty and imprisoned for life for piracy. They were in a skiff that attacked the USS Nicholas, mistaking it for a merchant ship. When they opened fire on the navy ship, the navy men fired back, and the pirates tried to run away but were captured.

Their lawyers argue that these men were fishermen forced into piracy by the local pirates, which may or may not be true, but piracy has long held a single specific interpretation: you help piracy, you pay. That kind of attitude is necessary to make shipping possible, to allow free trade without fear of predation by any group of punks with weapons. And the men each expected to make as much as $40,000 from ransom money.

Steve Skozatak writes in the Washington Post
Piracy and maritime law experts said news of the convictions would reach across the globe.

Ken Randall, dean of the University of Alabama School of law and a piracy scholar, wrote in an e-mail that the verdict set an important example for the world.

"On the seas, as well as in the courts, every nation should follow the US lead in redressing piracy," he wrote.
Lets hope that these pirates can be dealt with swiftly and with such strength and authority that they stop and nobody else considers taking up the trade anywhere else.

*hat tip Ace of Spades for this story

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