Admiralty & Maritime Law

New 'Hague' for Pirates Might Be Kenya


The high-profile rescue this week by the U.S. Navy of an American cargo ship captain reportedly being held hostage by pirates from Somalia has put a hitherto little-known legal issue in the spotlight.

Pirates on the high seas are so rarely tried for the crime that no one is sure where the case of the surviving suspect captured in the April 12 rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips should be pursued, reports the Christian Science Monitor. Ordinarily, many such suspects, who are by no means kingpins in the claimed crimes, are simply turned loose on shore.

However, the teenage suspect in Phillips’ case could well be tried. And nearby Kenya might be a likely jurisdiction in which to do so, “with Mombasa acting as a kind of Hague international tribunal for pirate crimes,” the newspaper writes. Although the suspect reportedly is of Somali nationality, his home country’s government and court system are disarray.

Some Kenyan officials, as well as a number of U.S. and British legal experts, like the idea of trying piracy suspects there. Others criticize it.

“Kenya isn’t The Hague, where combatants live far away. The truth is we are unprepared for this,” says an unidentified American lawyer and international practitioner who spoke anonymously to protect colleagues in Somalia. “There isn’t a Kyoto protocol for piracy, there’s no clear international practice.”

Additional coverage:

ABC News: “Piracy could bring maritime trade to its knees: experts”

Associated Press: “Teen piracy suspect raises legal, moral issues”

McClatchy Newspapers: “‘No cowards’: How ship’s crew fought off attackers”

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