Tag Archives | pirates

Does Nigeria Share Responsibility for Pirate Attack on US Sailors?

Two Americans have been kidnapped off an oil supply vessel off of Nigeria by local pirates, according to breaking new accounts.

Nigeria, like many nations, has been making it difficult for private security contractors to work off its shores. For example, it has recently arrested 15 Russian sailors from a ship operated by a security company, and held them for a year before dropping charges. Such nations do not like private security because, I gather, they would rather force oil companies and shippers to pay for their state-provided security monopoly.

India has in recent weeks arrested a ship operated by a U.S. based security company, and is holding the crew on weapons charges. India in turn is probably particularly jumpy about these things because of the Italian Marines who accidentally killed some Indian sailors thinking they were pirates, leading to an ongoing conflict between the two countries. Of course, this underscores that private contractors certainly do not have a monopoly on excessive use of force.

However, countries have a duty to repress piracy, codified in Art. 100 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Private security is the most effective measure against piracy: i for example, no ship with private security has been successfully hijacked in the entire Somali pirate epidemic. Thus I would argue that nations that make it difficult for private security to operate are in breach of their duty under international law, not that that amounts to much.

There will doubtless be speculation about a “Captain Phillips”-style dramatic rescue. If the hostages have been take back to Nigeria, I hope Abuja does not raise difficulties about American assistance in a rescue, as there own efforts will likely result in a bloody mess.

[Updated w/minor correction.] [...]

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Belgium’s Remarkable Capture of Pirate Ringleader

Belgium has captured a senior Somali pirate kingpin in a remarkable operation. The leader of a pirate group, he had long been sought for hijacking a Belgian vessel in 2009. Now, undercover agents lured him and an associate to the Low Countries by pretending to be documentary film makers interested in making a movie about him.

The remarkable affair highlights some points about universal jurisdiction and pirate kingpins.

Belgium’s commendable efforts to catch those involved contrast highlights a big difference between universal and traditional jurisdiction: the bad guys have to be caught before being brought to justice, and no one wants to invest much effort in other people’s – or the “global community’s” bad guys.

Though there is a lot of talk about pirate kingpins, they almost never face prosecution, because catching them would generally require getting on the ground in Somalia. Indeed, this seems to be the biggest – and only – pirate boss yet captured.
The U.S. has caught and convicted one real pirate leader, responsible for a murderous attack on a U.S. yacht; he was apparently nabbed in Somalia by federal agents.

The Belgian case poses a fascinating contrast to a U.S. gambit to catch a pirate kingpin. Ali Mohamend Ali, whose case I’ve written about, was arrested while attending an education conference in North Carolina – he was an education ministry official (not a staged conference, a real one). But Ali wasn’t really a pirate, let alone a kingpin, just someone paid to negotiate the ransom. Two years after his arrest, his trial will begin in the D.C. Federal District Court, appropriately enough on Halloween, when lots of people get dressed up as pirates.

Ali himself is the subject of a documentary (in which I also appear) made before his legal troubles began; in the [...]

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