Federal judge rules US has jurisdiction over Somali pirates in murder trial

[JURIST] The Chief Judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website] ruled Friday that Somalia's territorial waters extend no more than 12 miles from shore, concluding that the US has jurisdiction to prosecute a band of pirates accused of murdering four Americans in 2011. The attack took place approximately 40 miles off the coast of Somalia. While domestic legislation dictates that Somalia's territorial waters extend 200 miles from shore, the prosecution argued that Somalia had signed a treaty [text, PDF] establishing that the "breadth of its territorial sea" would "not [exceed] 12 nautical miles." Judge Rebecca Beach Smith thereby denied the defense's motion to have the murder charges dismissed. Each man could face the death penalty if convicted.

Last month the UN Security Council [official website] condemned [JURIST report] piracy and acts of armed robbery against vessels off the coast of Somalia. The Security Council urged the international community to develop a comprehensive response to discourage these acts. A number of countries around the world have taken actions in the attempt to solve the problem of maritime piracy. In October the Hanseatic Higher Regional Court of Hamburg [official website, in German] sentenced 10 Somalis [JURIST report] who were involved in the hijacking the German freighter MS Taipan off the coast of Somalia two years ago. Also in October, an appeals court in Kenya concluded that Kenyan courts have jurisdiction [JURIST report] to try international piracy suspects. Also that month six accused Somali pirates went on trial [JURIST report] in a Paris court in connection with the 2008 hijacking of the cruise ship Le Ponant in the Gulf of Aden. In July the International Chamber of Commerce International Maritime Bureau [official website] reported that the number of global pirate attacks fell sharply [JURIST report] in the first half of 2012.

 

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