Suspected pirates skiff drifts at sea after being burnt the amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD 48). U.S. Navy photo, by Chief Fire Controlman Harry J. Storms

Suspected pirates skiff drifts at sea after being burnt the amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD 48). U.S. Navy photo

Successful or not, if you attack a ship, you are a pirate… and you will be convicted. Period.

A federal jury in Virginia this week convicted five Somali men on piracy charges for their role in 2010 attack on the the USS Ashland, ending a landmark case that challenged the United State’s definition of piracy on the high seas.

“These defendants are headed where they belong: to federal prison,” said George Venizelos, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s New York Field Office. “Let this send a clear message of deterrence to anyone who threatens those who traverse the high seas.”

During the attack on April 10, 2010, the five Somali men chased and fired upon the amphibious dock landing ship, USS Ashland, that they had somehow mistook for a merchant vessel in the Gulf of Aden. The attack was quickly “handled” by the heavily armed crew of the Ashland, who then apprehended the suspects and sank the skiffs.

During the original trial, lawyers for the defendants argued that since the pirates were never successful in boarding or robbing the Ashland, the piracy charge should be dismissed… and it was. Prosectors appealed in pursuit of the piracy charge and, as it turned out, a similar case was making its way through the federal appeals court in Virginia that involved another unsuccessful attack on a U.S. Navy ship, the USS Nicholas, where the pirates were convicted on piracy charges and sentenced to life in prison.

The appeals led to a May 2012 ruling by a federal grand jury on the definition of piracy on the high seas to include any attack on a ship even if unsuccessful, and uphold the convictions and life sentences in the case of the Nicholas attack while remanding the case involving the USS Ashland back to court.

The five men were later charged in a second superseding indictment that was filed on August 8, 2012.

“These men were pirates—plain and simple,” said Neil MacBride, a U.S. Attorney who prosecuted the case. “They attacked a ship hoping to hold it ransom for millions of dollars. Few crimes are older than piracy on the high seas, and today’s verdict shows that the United States takes it very seriously.”

The five men are scheduled to be sentenced on July 1 and July 2, 2013. The maximum sentence and the convictions are as follows:

  • Conspiracy to commit hostage taking carries a maximum sentence of life in prison
  • Conspiracy to commit kidnapping carries a maximum sentence of life in prison
  • Conspiracy to perform act of violence against persons on a vessel carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison
  • Conspiracy involving firearm and a crime of violence carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison
  • Piracy under the Law of Nations carries a maximum sentence of life in prison
  • Attack to plunder vessel carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison
  • Assault with a dangerous weapon on federal officers and employees carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison
  • Act of violence against persons on a vessel carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison
  • And use/possession of firearm during crime of violence carries a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison and a maximum of life in prison if convicted of one count. A second or subsequent conviction adds an additional 25 years, making the prison term a minimum mandatory 35 years.

The following are the names of those convicted:

Mohamed Ali Said, a/k/a Maxamad Cali Saciid; Mohamed Abdi Jama, a/k/a Mohammed Abdi Jamah; Abdicasiis Cabaase, a/k/a Ahmed Mahomood; Abdirazaq Abshir Osman, a/k/a Abdirasaq Abshir; and Mohamed Farah, a/k/a Mohamed Farraah Hassan.

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