"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)



From the BBC:
A Dutch court has sentenced five Somali men to five years in prison for attacking a cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden last year, in the first such case to come to trial in Europe.

The men were convicted in Rotterdam of attacking a Dutch Antilles-flagged ship, the Samanyolu.

They were arrested last year when their high-speed boat was intercepted by a Danish frigate.
Here we have a rare conviction in a piracy case, which stemmed from an also-rare arrest and detention of piracy suspects. Why is the arrest, detention, and conviction of pirates so rare? Because international law on these matters is, to put it mildly, slightly unclear. Who has authority to capture and prosecute criminals on the high seas? In what country's courts should the suspects be tried?

Some of this is laid out in international law, but much of it is a lot more ambiguous than you might think. Piracy is definitely illegal and gives the rights to capture and prosecute pirates to other countries, but it doesn't say a thing about pirates who are captured in their own country's waters. Which is one of the reasons why most of the pirates who are captured these days are more often than not set free a few days, weeks, or months later.

What makes this case different? Well, for one thing, the Dutch courts were willing to try a case that involved a Dutch Antilles vessel. The pirates were arrested by a naval ship of another European state.

Does the possibility of detention act as a deterrent to Somali piracy? It hasn't thus far, and there's little reason to expect that yesterday's conviction will stop any plucky young Somalis from joining the gangs. While European and American naval patrols have stepped up their activity in the last year, piracy has become an even more popular career choice, particularly in Puntland and the northern reaches of Somalia proper. Estimates are that the number of Somali pirates has tripled to about 3,000 in the last few years. It's a lucrative business, with high risks and high returns. The capture and conviction of five people won't seem like much of a threat on the ground in Harardhere.


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