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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The long arm of FBI of US – 25 years imprisonment to Somali Pirate

In olden days, those committed crime were considered social outcasts and were looked upon – not any longer.  Now a days after committing felony, they have money, they have power and they get stronger, they are recognized socially, build big houses, buy high end cars, possess arms, have people under them, spend lavishly and in short live a dream life. 

Not a statement of politicians but of Pirates – who in some ways are socially acceptable in their land and have become fashionable.  Most of them are uneducated youth who live life of lavishness in a land where people struggle for food and other basic amenities.  All because their prize catches fetch them anywhere close to $2M. 

Somali pirates operate from captured boats and small ships, have advanced arms from market dealers and are not afraid of using them either.  They have another weaponry for committing dastardly crime – their targets include large oil tankers carrying thousands of tons of crude which if blown up can pose great danger to the occupants, great monetary loss to the owners of cargo and ship and potentially cause global ecological disaster.  Though piracy is not new to mankind, the expanse of the crime from puntland is mind-boggling.  Close to 2000 people reportedly were held hostages in a year – few did die of abuse or neglect – hundreds still remain captive – held in hijacked vessels or taken to hinterland.  The attacks on ships have grown manifold and their area of operation has also expanded.  Millions reportedly have been paid as ransom in securing release of cargo laden ships and its crew. 

Piracy is a war-like act committed by individuals  against parties of a different nationality, or against vessels of their own nationality at sea, and especially acts of robbery and/or criminal violence at sea. People who engage in these acts are called pirates.  The term includes acts committed on land, on air and on water.  The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) defines Piracy as

“any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed: (i) on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft; (ii) against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State;  any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or aircraft;  any act inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described in sub-paragraph (a) or (b).”

The UNCLOS definition of piracy developed into international law and the International Maritime Organization recognized and accepted this definition.   From time immemorial, it has been held that tough laws are required to prevent and be deterrent to crimes.  Death penalty is advocated for crimes against humanity and merciless killing.  There is something known as  "tough on crime" movement that emphasize punishment as a primary, and often sole, response to crime.  They state that Laws have to stringent and strike back at people who are impunctilious to canons of law and act mercilessly.  Such policies advocate  harsh punishments to hard crimes.  Punishment should not see race, religion, sect or colour.

Viewed in this context, the decision of the District Court of Columbia is significant.  Recently,  U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia sentenced  Jama Idle Ibrahim, a/k/a Jaamac Ciidle to 25 year prison term for armed piracy in attack on merchant ship.  The vessel MV CEC Future had been captured by Somali pirates in Nov 2008 and was held for 71 days until Jan 2009.  Ibrahim, 39, of Somalia, pled guilty to conspiracy to commit piracy under the law of nations and conspiracy to use a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence. He received the maximum penalty of five years in prison for the piracy conspiracy charge and the maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for the firearm conspiracy charge. This represents the first conviction in the District of Columbia for a piracy related offense.

Going by the reports, the pirates were armed heavily, attacked and seized the ship.  The ship was owned by  Clipper Group, a Danish company, and contained cargo belonging to a Texas-based company.  The pirates approached in high-speed boats and fired their weapons, took over and held the crew for ransom.   The vessel was secured reportedly on payment of ransom of $1.7 million.

In the US System, the FBI is charged with investigating attacks against US citizens and US interests in any part of the World.  There are reports that the Management of the Clipper group expressed thanks for bringing the pirates to justice.   They felt that such sentences would send strong signal to other pirates.  There was no possibility of recovery of money paid as ransom but they felt that those holding the crew hostage for 71 days need to be punished severly.   Earlier, in Nov 2010, Ibrahim  had been  sentenced to 30 years' imprisonment in the Eastern District of Virginia following a guilty plea to charges of attacking US Navy vessel – USS Ashland.  Both these sentences are to run concurrently.   

M.V. CEC Future is a general cargo vessel of 4,980 GT, built in 1994 in Århus was flying Bahamian flag at the time of capture. 

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.

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