One of the unresolved issues with dealing with the pirate problem off Somalia is what do you do with pirates that you capture?

Kenya has stood up and offered to try pirates in their courts. However, as a result their court system is now trying to deal with over 100 pirates captured at sea and deposited on their shores and now they are resisting the pressure to accept more of them.

A number of pirates have been simply released, either back ashore or back to their boats, after being disarmed of any weapons that they didn’t already throw overboard themselves prior to capture.

The Russians have come up with a nastier version of this tactic, basically abandoning the pirates far at sea with only the most basic of supplies. Oddly enough, they did want to prosecute the pirates back in Russia, but abandoned that idea because the ship’s crew of the attacked vessel, were not able to directly identify the pirates, given that they were holed up in a secure room, unable to negate the pirate claims that they too were victims of other pirates who got away.

Russia frees suspected pirates

RUSSIA has freed a group of suspected pirates captured when its navy stormed a hijacked tanker in the Indian Ocean.

One pirate was killed and 10 suspects seized when marines from the destroyer Marshal Shaposhnikov recaptured the 106,474dwt Moscow University yesterday, a day after it was seized.

The detainees were expected to be tried in Russia. But after a day of contradictory public announcements and debate among prosecutors, military officers and the Kremlin, the navy was ordered to cast the suspected pirates adrift.

Their release took place after a source at the defence ministry announced: “Unfortunately … legal rules for the prosecution of pirates operating in Somalia did not exist, and thus they [the suspects] do not fall under the jurisdiction of any state and international law.”

Defence ministry spokesman Colonel Alexei Kuznetsov later said the release was required “due to the imperfection of the international legal framework”.

There were no witnesses to substantiate the identities and actions of the suspects because the tanker’s 23 Russian crew members had secured themselves in a safe-room.

And after they were captured, the suspects reportedly claimed that they were not pirates but rather hostages of the real attackers.

In June, the chief Russian prosecutor in charge of piracy, Alexander Zvyagintsev, told Fairplay that Russian law clearly allows for military action against pirates, but it was less clear what could be done if pirates were captured.

“The problem of what to do with the pirates who have been arrested remains undecided for the majority of countries,” he explained. “That adds to the confidence of the pirates that they can go on acting with impunity.” – Fairplay News

Not mentioned in the article is that apparently the Russians stripped the boat of any navigational equipment before setting them free with a tank of fuel. There are also apparently concerns in the media that the Russians simply did away with the pirates and provided this cover story, all because there were no press to witness the freeing of the pirates. Personally, I do not believe that the Russian Navy would do such a thing, given that what they had admitted to doing already gives the pirates a poor chance of survival. And I do not blame the Russians for not inviting the press to document this form of punishment. Actually, I would hope that they marked the sides of the vessel with ‘DANGER – PIRATES’ so as to warn passing ships of the risk of assisting them. One thing is for sure, pirates will not mess around with the Russians once word gets out about what happened to their fellow bandits.

Question is, is this a solution that other Navies can employ? The EU has been targeting motherships. The effect is similar for any pirates at sea dependent on those captured motherships for fuel and food. Going after supply lines is a classic military strategy. However, those at the end of a disrupted supply line at sea are as doomed as the pirates the Russians ‘freed’ at sea. The only difference is that the Russians caught them and then let them go.

UPDATE – 11 May:

Here is the latest news noting that the pirates did not appear to have gotten very far:

Freed Pirates May Have Drowned

Ten pirates released from a Russian warship 300 miles out to sea may have drowned, according to Russian officials and colleagues of the pirates, raising fears of retaliation against other vessels plying East African waters.

The pirates were captured last week after they hijacked the Moscow University, a Liberian-flagged, Russian-operated oil tanker sailing off the Somali coast. A Russian warship came to the ship’s rescue and apprehended the pirates. But after determining it would be too difficult to obtain a conviction, Russian officials said that they dropped plans to take the pirates to Moscow for trial.

Instead, like many other warships that have intercepted pirate skiffs, the Russian marines released the pirates — but not before removing weapons and navigation equipment from the boat several hundred miles from shore. Russian officials gave no explanation for removing the navigation equipment.

A Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson said radio signals from the boat disappeared about an hour after the release. “That could mean that they are dead,” the spokesperson said.

Fellow pirates in Somalia also said they lost contact with the boat after their separation from the Russian warship. “We will hold Russia responsible if any harm comes to them,” said a pirate commander, Abdi Dhagaweyne, in a telephone interview. “I’m not sure of their safety now because we have since lost contact.” – Wall Street Journal




Posted by FFry in Maritime Security
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  • RickWilmes

    “And after they were captured, the suspects reportedly claimed that they were not pirates but rather hostages of the real attackers.”

    “Actually, I would hope that they marked the sides of the vessel with ‘DANGER – PIRATES’ so as to warn passing ships of the risk of assisting them”

    Let’s release them because we can’t prove they are pirates, but put “DANGER – PIRATES” on their ship so they won’t get any assistance.

    This doesn’t  make any sense.

  • RickWilmes

    The following essay offers a principled response to piracy.

    The Barbary Wars and Their Lesson for Combating Piracy Today*

    http://www.theobjectivestandard.com/issues/2009-winter/barbary-wars-piracy.asp 

    “Toward establishing a policy that can bring about this same effect with regard to the Somali pirates, it is instructive to examine those aspects of late-18th- and early-19th-century U.S. foreign policy that were effective against Barbary piracy and those that were not. In particular, it is instructive to identify why the First Barbary War failed to end the pirate attacks but the second succeeded”

  • USNVO

    There is really no problem with international law. There are two countries that potentially have juristiction here. One, the flag state. Since it is a flag of convenience, they’re not going to do anything. Two is the Russians since they are their citizens, but that is only if their laws allow. It would appear that the Russian law does not allow for the prosecution of the pirates as the crime did not occur within Russian juristiction being that it was a on non-Russian flag ship.

  • USNVO

    I believe the idea of Somali “motherships” as some type of resupply ship is both a stretch and completely unrealistic. The motherships are self-contained. They carry provisions, fuel, and navigation equipment for their own skiffs, which make the actual attacks after a target is identified. As far as I have seen, they are not going out to resupply Somali Pirates offshore but rather to carry their own high speed pirate skiffs farther offshore. Much like the Whaling ships who carried the crews and actual hunting boats to the Antartic to hunt whales, they act as a range and endurance extender. So the wishful thinking that interdicting motherships is somehow strangleing the logistics supply of the other pirates is just that, wishful thinking.

  • http://fredfryinternational.blogspot.com/ Fred Fry

    USNVO, To clarify, I was referring to the skiffs that were working directly with those specific motherships. In most cases skiffs were also picked up with the motherships, but not in all cases. Yes, they go out together and come back together.

    Also, the reason the Russians did not proscecute the pirates, was not exactly a problem with Russian law but a problem due to a lack of witnesses. Russia is currently prosecuting pirates from the ARCTIC SEA as the crew can testify that they were the ones who took over the ship.

    The Russians were very interested to proscecute these pirates as the ultimate owner of the ship was the Russian Government.

  • Markus Landjäger

    just a few hours ago the russians said that the pirates ship disappeared from radar a hour after release. so they are dead now. this seems to be the russian way.

  • http://fredfryinternational.blogspot.com/ FFry

    “Let’s release them because we can’t prove they are pirates, but put “DANGER – PIRATES” on their ship so they won’t get any assistance.

    This doesn’t make any sense.”

    How does that not make any sense? Someone on the Russian side decided that it was a waste of time to try them in a court as the pirates would make a mockery of the system, knowing that a certain percentage of bleeding hearts would take their side, even some who believe that they are pirates. Knowing they are pirates and proving in a court they are are two different things. If they Russians didn’t think they were pirates, would they drop them in a small boat in the middle of the ocean with no navigational equipment?

  • RickWilmes

    If you “know” that someone is a pirate than “proving” that they are pirates has already occurred.  Proof is a prerequisite to knowledge.

    Whether or not this knowledge holds up in a court of law is a separate issue?

    How is the bleeding heart crowd going to react when Russia says, “Well, we knew we couldn’t prove they were pirates in our court system but we did not want anyone to help them.  Our solution was to release them and put “DANGER-PIRATES” on their boat.”

    Doesn’t make any sense, unless you are advocating a “Piracy Catch and Release Program.”

  • mrneo

    If they Russians didn’t think they were pirates, would they drop them in a small boat in the middle of the ocean with no navigational equipment?
    @FFry-
    Yep, they sure would, to think otherwise is simply naive.

  • USNVO

    FFry, thanks for the clarification by I will stand by my first position. The EU has been targeting the pirate motherships in the vicinity of the Somalia coast. At least in every picture that has been released, the skiffs are embarked on the motherships, and at least to date, the pirates are released in the immediate vicinity of the Somalia coast. So somewhat different.

    As to the Russian Government, while they may have wished the pirates to be prosecuted, they clearly did not have the ability to prosecute them. They cited “”no legal grounds for detaining them” as they could not be prosecuted under international or national law.”
    Piracy, although defined in international law, is not a violation of International Law per se, only national law. Since no Russian citizens were threatened (being safely locked in a safe room since before the pirates were onboard), and since it wasn’t a Russian flagged ship (even if owned by Russia) and the flag of convenience government wants nothing to do with it, their hands were tied. The US is somewhat unique in that our antipiracy laws are not specific to acts against US Flag ships or citizens but are against piracy in general. Clearly Russia’s laws are not so broad although clearly they may have found a way around the problem that meets their needs.

  • http://fredfryinternational.blogspot.com/ FFry

    “If you “know” that someone is a pirate than “proving” that they are pirates has already occurred. Proof is a prerequisite to knowledge.” In a common sense world this is true. But then the lawyers are let in to the room. The O.J. trial comes to mind. GITMO is another perfect example. Just how many terrorists were release to only end up back fighting with the enemy?

    “How is the bleeding heart crowd going to react when Russia says, “Well, we knew we couldn’t prove they were pirates in our court system but we did not want anyone to help them. Our solution was to release them and put “DANGER-PIRATES” on their boat.””
    – Of course they are going to scream. The difference here is that the Russians have already administered punishment. Apologizing is not going to effect the pirate’s current situation.

  • RickWilmes

    Sometimes, it helps to look at a policy and apply it in a different context.  It may make sense to catch and release suspected pirates on the open sea in a disabled vessel.  Chances of survival are against the suspects.

    Should the same catch and release policy be used when it comes to suspected bomb makers?

    See the article below for details.

    http://atwar.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/05/03/toggling-between-fighting-and-outreach-in-afghanistan/

    “Was Abdul Ghani a bomb maker? Was he just unlucky and caught up in a fast sweep? The evidence had been uncertain. The Marines did not know for sure. Certainly there were hidden bombs nearby, and they had been made from the kinds of components found in his home. (A few days later, when the roads into northern Marja were opened, the colonel’s convoy would strike one of the hidden bombs, and several others would be found.)

    But no matter. The decision had been taken. On this day, after several days of intensive fighting and an errant rocket strike, the release of Abdul Ghani offered a chance for a spontaneous good-will gesture. Under the ideas that at the moment drive Western notions of counterinsurgency, he was seen to be more valuable being set free at a funeral for what may well have been a Taliban fighter than being moved along toward jail.”

  • http://fredfryinternational.blogspot.com/ FFry

    Mr. Neo,
    Thanks for the correction. In fact, I suspect that if needed, the Russians would have killed everyone on that vessel if that is what it took to regain control of it, once they decided to re-take it.

  • http://fredfryinternational.blogspot.com/ FFry

    See update posted above regarding the fate of the pirates, according to the Russians.

  • http://fredfryinternational.blogspot.com/ FFry

    I have posted on my blog a photo which appears to support the Russian claim that only one pirate died in the recapture of the ship:
    http://fredfryinternational.blogspot.com/2010/05/dealing-with-pirates-russia-makes-them.html

  • http://www.eaglespeak.us/ Eagle1

    Hey, the pirates got the very best leaky rubber boat the Russian had… what more did they need?

  • ND

    This is pretty awful. While piracy is a very serious crime, it’s a crime against property and doesn’t carry the death penalty.

  • Michael Antoniewicz II

    A couple of friends had this response (*THE* classic International Law on Piracy) to the method the Russians used in dealing with the Pirates:

    #1) Thinking about the Russians “releasing” Somali pirates in a rubber raft with a radio and no navigation equipment. I’ve got no problem with “cruel and inhumane” execution of pirates.

    This particular execution was especially barbaric in its callous disregard of our Earth’s environment, though.

    What gentle sea creatures are going to choke to death on bits of that rubber raft? What about the acid from the batteries in the radio? What about the carbon footprint for making new rubber boats and manufacturing new radios–that could have been avoided if the rubber raft and radio were saved and sold used.

    I definitely agree with hanging pirates from the yardarm. Rope is a recyclable, sustainable, “green” solution.

    #2) Why I love my daughter: “You can’t just toss pirates over the side to the sharks! You have to crank up Mozart so you can’t hear the screams!”

    Luckily I was able to get the cup down so I didn’t spill coffee all over myself while laughing. ;)

  • Iman Azol

    ND: Piracy has carried the death penalty for 3000 years. What planet are you from?

  • Michael Antoniewicz II

    No sense of history:

    “We will hold Russia responsible if any harm comes to them,” said a pirate commander, Abdi Dhagaweyne, in a telephone interview.

    Give the Islamic Extremists in Lebanon a call about how the Soviet/Russian Spetsnaz deals with kidnappers … and listen to them once they stop rolling on the floor laughing at you for doing something so stupid.

  • sergey

    Our Marines are supermen! We are pirates and bandits oruzheem in the hands of destroying! And if you really may feel sorry for the pirates let them take them yourself fed and watered at his own expense and snot wipe them will !!!!!! ha ha ha

  • ND

    “Piracy has carried the death penalty for 3000 years. What planet are you from?”

    It doesn’t carry that penalty now.

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