Friday, August 20, 2010
The U.S. government tried to stretch the definition of piracy a bit too far, according to a U.S. District Court Judge in Virginia. The judge dismissed piracy counts against six Somali men who were arrested in the Gulf of Aden after an attack on the U.S.S. Ashland in April. The Somali men fired upon the U.S. ship, but never attempted to board the ship. The Ashland fired back, setting the smaller vessel on fire. The crew of the Ashland then rescued the Somali men and placed them under arrest. The judge held that piracy as defined by the law of nations traditionally means robbery at sea. See U.S. v. Smith, 18 U.S. 153 (1820). Because the Somalis never left their ship and never attempted to steal anything from the Ashland, the judge rejected the government's attempts to charge them with piracy. The defendants still face several charges under other federal statutes including attack to plunder a vessel, acts of violence against persons on a vessel, and assault with deadly weapons. The case is United States v. Mohamed Ali Said, (U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virgina, Aug. 17, 2010).