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.