Ronald Machen, Former U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia
District of Columbia
Somali Sentenced to 25 Years for Armed Piracy of Merchant Ship Held for 71 Days
Jama Idle Ibrahim, 39, of Somalia, was sentenced to 25 years in prison on April 7, 2011, for a violent act of piracy in the Gulf of Aden against a merchant vessel, the M/V CEC Future, that began in November 2008 and lasted for 71 days, until January 16, 2009. Ibrahim pled guilty to conspiracy to commit piracy under the law of nations and conspiracy to use a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence. Ibrahim and other Somali pirates were armed with AK 47s, a rocket-propelled grenade, and handguns when they attacked and seized the vessel, which was owned by Clipper Group, a Danish company, and contained cargo belonging to a Texas-based company, McDermott International, Inc. The pirates held the vessel, cargo, and 13 crew members captive and forced the crew to anchor in waters off the Somalia coast, until the Clipper Group delivered $1.7 million in ransom to the pirates. This was the first conviction in the District of Columbia for a piracy-related offense.
Eastern District of Virginia
Somali Pirate Cases
The Norfolk Division of Eastern District of Virginia (EDVA), which is home to the largest naval base in the world, is at the forefront of United States piracy prosecutions. Since 2010, EDVA has charged 26 alleged pirates captured on the high seas around Somalia. Twenty-five of those pirates were alleged to have operated on the high seas, utilizing weapons ranging from AK-47’s to rocket propelled grenades. One of those alleged pirates was captured in Somalia and has been described in the media as the highest ranking Somali pirate captured and prosecuted to date. These prosecutions resulted in the first successful piracy trial in the United States in approximately 200 years. To date, EDVA has convicted a total of 17 pirates, which convictions have resulted in or will result in five defendants being sentenced to life plus 80 years, 11 defendants sentenced to life, and one defendant sentenced to 30 years. A number of defendants are still pending trial.
The following is a summary of the separate piracy prosecutions in EDVA.
United States v. Hasan et al.: The five defendants in this case were Somali pirates who, on April 1, 2010, mistook the USS Nicholas for a merchant vessel and attacked it at night using AK-47’s and carrying an rocket propelled grenade. The case resulted in what is believed to be the longest opinion on the meaning of piracy under the law of nations since the 1820 Supreme Court decision in United States v. Smith. After a three week trial in November 2010, all defendants were found guilty on all charges. Each defendant was sentenced to life plus 80 years. The case is currently on appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
United States v. Said et al.: The six defendants in this case are alleged to be Somali pirates who, on April 10, 2010, mistook the USS Ashland for a merchant vessel and attacked it using an AK-47. The case is currently on appeal to the Fourth Circuit.
United States v. Salad et al./United States v. Shibin: The 15 defendants in this case are alleged to be responsible for the piracy of the S/V Quest, a U.S. flagged sailboat, which resulted in the tragic murder of the four United States citizens on board the Quest at the hands of the pirates. This is the first case in which a land-based, management level pirate – Shibin – has been captured and prosecuted. To date, 11 defendants have pled guilty and will receive mandatory life sentences. Three defendants now face capital charges.