At last! News reaches me from the ever faithful BBC News website that the French have captured some pirates. Rather than meekly handing over millions of dollars in ransom, the French warship “Nivôse” (part of an EU piracy patrol) captured 11 pirates off the coast of Kenya, just hours after a failed attack on a US ship.
NB. Although the report is not clear, I assume that it was the pirates and not the French warship which attacked the US vessel!
Following hard on the heels of that report came another, revealing that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has unveiled a four-point plan to tackle piracy in the Gulf of Aden. Disappointingly, this plan does not involve the use of cannon, cutlasses or privateers. As Mrs. Clinton says: “We may be dealing with a 17th-Century crime, but we need to bring 21st Century assets to bear.” Not so much “Shiver me timbers!” as “Frozen me assets!”?
Apparently the question of criminal jurisdiction for crimes of piracy is somewhat vexed. While we all know what to do with a drunked sailor. It would appear that it is not always clear what to do with a captured pirate. For example, last September a Danish ship detained 10 armed pirates in the seas off Somalia after they had attacked merchant ships. However, Denmark only has national criminal jurisdiction if the pirates are attacking a Danish ship or Danish citizens. So they couldn’t be brought to Denmark for prosecution. Eventually, the pirates were set free and landed in a safe place on the shore of Somalia.
Of course part of the problem is that piracy is so profitable that the small risk of getting caught or injured is outweighed by the near certainty that the corporate owners of the hijacked ship will shell out a hefty ransom. Did you know that paying a ransom is not illegal under British law, unless it’s to terrorists. Fact. Also that there are lawyers in London whose job it is to negotiate the amount and means of delivery of a ransom with pirates. According to Stephen Askins of Ince & Co. it’s a lot like negotiating with an Egyptian market trader over the price of a carpet! I suppose it is, except that the market trader is unlikely to set fire to the carpet if you don’t cough up enough piaster. But Ince & Co. would know – after all how many law firms have felt the need to publish a guide called
Piracy – issues arising from the use of armed guards?
In an effort to crack down on the pirates the US and the EU have both concluded deals with Somalia’s neighbour Kenya to send pirates for prosecution there. However there are concerns with this approach. Human Rights Watch says there are problems in Kenya: “People are routinely beaten in jail. Trials are rarely free and fair. Judges are highly susceptible to corruption.”
Still, it’s got to be better that the traditional punishment for piracy, which I believe involved a long drop and a short rope.
PS. There’s a prize of three (virtual) Doubloons to the first person to spot where the pirates who fly the jolly roger flag I designed (top right) come from. And another three to the scurvy dog who can identify the source of the quote which forms the title to this article.
PPS. I’ve now got all of the pirate related silliness out of my system. I promise, just serious pirate news from now on (in the main).
Posted on Absolvitor: Scots Law Online.