Trial begins for 5 Somali men accused of piracy

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jason R. Zalasky/Released)

Today, the trial of five Somali men accused of attacking the USS Nicholas began in a Norfolk, Virginia court.  The men face a handful of charges for the April 1st attack, including assault and piracy charges. The trial marks the first piracy trial to be held in the U.S. in nearly 200 years.  The Pilot Online has the details:

The Somalis are charged in a 14-count indictment with piracy, attack to plunder a vessel, assault and related charges in the April 1, early morning attack on the Norfolk-based Nicholas. Piracy, the most serious charge, carries a mandatory life prison term.

Some of the Somalis are expected to say at the trial that they were forced to take part in ship attacks off the Somali coast by the real pirates, who got away that day. They also are expected to say they were lost at sea and only fired a weapon to get help from the U.S. Navy ship.

But prosecutors say the five confessed to attacking the Nicholas, thinking in the dark of night that it was a merchant vessel. Read full article

The strange (and pretty dumb) attack occurred on the morning of April 1st when the five men exchanged fire with the guided missile frigate USS Nicholas while she was deployed off the Somali coast on an anti-piracy mission.  The Nicholas caught up to the skiff, captured the pirates, sank the skiff, and then confiscated a suspected mother ship.  According to the mens testimony’s, they had mistaken the warship for a merchant vessel.

Even stranger, a similar attack happened just days later on April 10 when 6 men aboard a small skiff fired on the USS Ashland (pictured above).  The Ashland returned fire, sinking the skiff and forcing the men into the water before taking them into custody.  The piracy charges for these men however were dropped when a Virginia court judge ruled the group did not rob, board or take control of the vessel.

If convicted of piracy, the men face a mandatory life sentence.