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Somali Pirates Seize U.S. Ship - Updated

There is likely to be some uncertainty over the appropriate response to the seizing of a U.S. cargo container ship carrying 20 Americans. The ship, the Maersk Alabama was attacked, boarded and hijacked more than 300 miles off the coast of Somalia in open waters. The Alabama was reportedly carrying "general cargo." However given that the Maersk Line is a Defense Department prime shipping contractor, it is possible the ship was targeted because the pirates believed there might be military materials on board.

So, now here is the question. The Alabama is a U.S. flagged ship and 20 American sailors were on board when it was hijacked. Who has jurisdiction over the affair, and would the U.S. Navy pursue? While written in 2006, this article suggests that the F.B.I. might indeed have jurisdiction over this event.

When a crime does occur at sea, several factors determine whether the U.S. has legal jurisdiction. A complicated weave of international law applies, but as a rule, the FBI leads investigations of the following scenarios:

● If the ship is U.S.-owned, regardless of the nationality of the victim or perpetrator;

● If the crime occurs in U.S. territorial waters (within 12 miles of the coast);

● If the victim or perpetrator is a U.S. national on a ship that departed or is arriving at a U.S. port;

● If it's an act of terrorism against the U.S.

Somalia is a lawless country with, as the CIA Factbook says has no permanent national government, and currently has a transitional, parliamentary federal government.

It is unclear who has the jurisdiction here or even what the rules of engagement are in a case where an American ship with an American crew is hijacked. This should be "interesting" to watch as the situation unfolds.

UPDATE: This comes as no surprise to anyone who sees the "inadequacies" of the UN in dealing with non-state actors ("only"???). This morning, the nearest USN ship was 300 nautical miles away. Now, after holding the Captain of the Alabama hostage, the destroyer USS Bainbridge has reached the site.

Joe Murphy, whose son Shane is the ship's first officer, said the hijacking is "a wake-up call for America."

"They're making more money in piracy than the gross national product of Somalia, so it's not going to go away any time soon until there's international concern and international law enforcement," said Murphy, an instructor at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy.

The Maersk Alabama is the first U.S. ship to be seized in the latest wave of piracy off largely lawless Somalia.

The merchant sailors are unarmed. So I wonder about the rules of engagement and how we protect American interests in this "new World."

4 Comments

This pirate issue has gone on too long! See the pictures of the small attack boats? Many are open vessels.

The Solution:

Arm the freighters post a global notice: “Any small boats approaching large ships in that area of the ocean will be blown out of the water on sight and without warning.” Film four or five boarding attempts that leave the pirates mostly dead and adrift 250 NM from shore and post them on You Tube. Show the BS and AS (before and after shark) footage. Piracy will decline.

The only reason they are successful is because the world no longer has the backbone (Trans: balls) to deal with them. Well, all except for the US crew!

Jurisdiction is not unclear.

If a US flagged ship is attacked by pirates anywhere, the US Navy can act. All it takes is a US president with the will to order it.

I'll bet we still have laws on the books allowing captains to hang pirates.

The UN can go pound sand.

Actually Kristopher, and maybe early this morning I wasn't as clear as I could have been. Question should have been "does the F.B.I. have law enforcement jurisdiction when Americans are kidnapped on the high seas?" Re: the USN, would it open fire on the pirate vessel when American interests are involved? As for the UN, yup, we agree.

It has been long since I have heard a news about pirates.. Anyway, hope that the crews would remain safe and that the reports would soon be consistent that the ship has been retaken by the crews.. All we can do today is to pray for the safety of the crews..

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