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US Judge Dismisses Charges Against Somali Pirates

by Mike Godfrey, Tax-News.com, Washington

27 August 2010


Six men have been acquitted of piracy charges despite exchanging fire with US Navy vessel, USS Ashland off the coast of Somalia on April 10. Presiding, a Federal Judge based in Virginia, Raymond Jackson, dismissed the piracy charges, which was brought against the accused under a 200-year old statute that allows the imposition of life sentences.

Jackson ruled that, despite their armed, aggressive presence, the six men had not boarded or attempted to assume control of the US vessel, and thus could not be charged under the piracy statute.

It was reported by the US Navy that the six men aboard a skiff, when approached by the frigate, Ashland, fired a single shot, at which point the frigate returned fire, sinking the Somali vessel and killing one onboard. Those aboard the skiff were then taken into custody from the water, the Navy reported.

In what will be seen as a landmark ruling, Jackson dismissed arguments by prosecutors that any attacks of this nature in open waters should qualify as piracy, leniency that many may argue is undue amid a crackdown on piracy in the Gulf of Aden. Ransoms paid out to pirates have run into tens of millions of dollars. As identified by the judge, it is the first time since 1820 that the Virginia court has had the task of interpreting the piracy statute.

The six men still face charges of conspiracy, assault with a dangerous weapon, attacking to plunder a vessel, and acts of violence against people on a vessel. They are to be held, along with five other men being held on similar charges, until proceedings begin again this autumn.

TAGS: court | marine | law | Somalia

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