x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Naval chiefs address difficulties of getting pirates into court

Different national laws are hampering efforts to bring pirates to justice, naval chiefs were told yesterday.

ABU DHABI // Different national laws are hampering efforts to bring pirates to justice, naval chiefs were told yesterday. It made building a legal framework to deal with criminals apprehended at sea "extremely complex", said Vice Admiral Russell Crane, the chief of the Australian navy. "When crimes occur on the high seas or overlap with international waters, there isn't always a clear process," Vice Adml Crane said.

"We have a co-operative operation against piracy and terror in the Indian Ocean region. However, our respective domestic legal structures makes detention and prosecution extremely painful." He was addressing the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium at the Yas Hotel, where representatives of more than 30 navies are meeting to discuss closer collaboration, with the prosecution of piracy at the top of yesterday's agenda.

Since the surge in piracy in the Gulf of Aden in recent years, the question of what to do with those captured by navies patrolling the area has remained a headache for the international community. Many prisoners end up being freed. Kenya's decision last month to stop accepting pirates for trial in its courts narrows the options further. Major Gen Samson Mwathethe, the commander of the Kenyan navy, said his country had not been given sufficient support by the international community to process piracy suspects through its courts. "There are over 150 pirate prisoners in Mombasa jail alone who are yet to be processed through the judicial system," Gen Mwathethe said.

"We want to see an end to the situation. If you could have piracy courts under the UN, that would be ideal. In failure of that, we should have everybody to try their own prisoners - that's international law." The United Nations is compiling a report that will assess the options for a legal and judicial framework to try suspected pirates, including an international tribunal. Dr Paul Wambua, a legal adviser to the Kenyan navy, said the European Union had paid less than half the money Kenya had requested for the reform of its prisons and judicial system to deal with the extra strain.

"The other parties have not met their part of the bargain," Dr Wambua said. The Kenyan government was under pressure to end the agreement because of public criticism stemming from the security issues that piracy trials bring. Al Shebaab, Somalia's Islamist insurgent group, has issued threats, as have others in Kenya who may benefit from piracy ransoms. The greatest challenge for navies was galvanising their governments and addressing the legal quagmire, Dr Wambua said.

Rear Admiral Bruno Nielly, the commander of the French joint forces in the Indian Ocean, said ships should not have to submit reports and gather evidence on acts of piracy. "We are not policemen," he said. "We cannot continue to allow piracy to go unpunished." Private security firms on board merchant vessels were another concern, he said. lmorris@thenational.ae