Tag Archive | "maritime piracy"

Italian Oil Tanker

Homicide at Sea: Which Vessel is the Pirate in the Italy-India Conflict?


Italian Oil Tanker

The Italian Oil Tanker, Seized by Indian Police
(New York Times)

Some two dozen rounds of a powerful automatic gun are suddenly fired from one vessel on the high seas onto another. The latter is an unarmed Indian fishing boat with nets cast. Two fishermen are killed on deck, some eleven are asleep below deck and are injured. The vessel has some 16 bullets on it. The shooter, an Italian oil tanker, departs the scene and apparently does not report to the closest maritime authority that it has fired at presumed pirates. But of course, it itself may be the pirate by the Law of the Sea convention because the specific gunmen might just have been, while on their long voyage, bored or drunk when they saw some dark thin figures in the distance in the water and thought they would get some target-practice for fun.1  These homicides that took place on the high seas may have been accidental (e.g., the gun jammed) or unintentional or deliberate murder. We do not know because the facts have not been allowed to be tried in court proceedings.

The fishing vessel returned weeping to port, the Indian Navy and Coast Guard—to their credit—engaged in hot pursuit and managed to arrest the Italian vessel on the high seas, and the Italian vessel—to its credit—did not make a run for it but came into port.  Then the local provincial police arrested the alleged gunmen and charged them with murder, etc., under domestic law and also refused to let the ship free until it had paid a bond.

Who has had jurisdiction? Italy or India? From the beginning I, on the basis of my little learning in 1973-74 under the late great Professor DHN Johnson at the London School of Economics, one of the authors of the Law of the Sea Convention being written at the time, said the answer was both—it is a case of concurrent jurisdiction where Italy obviously has jurisdiction, as it was an Italian vessel that caused the homicide at sea, while India too has jurisdiction, as an Indian vessel was assaulted and India made the ship-arrest on the high seas.   The case needed clinical adherence to law and forensics by both countries in cooperative pursuit of the truth such that that elusive thing the interests of justice could prevail.

Italy rightly said the local domestic law of  the land did not apply, and the Supreme Court of India agreed with them. But Italy wrongly said India did not have jurisdiction at all, and the Supreme Court of India was clear that India had to create a Special Court for the purpose of a trial under international law.  Had India not made the ship-arrest and prosecuted the case, the possible criminal act that may be involved in this homicide at sea would have disappeared altogether.

The Ambassador, the Marines, and the Defense Attorney

The Ambassador, the Marines, and the Defense Attorney
(Deccan Chronicle)

Italy then asked for the two alleged gunmen to go home on parole for Christmas, the Supreme Court was assured by the Italian Government they would return to face trial, the Supreme Court granted them parole to do so, and they did return; some weeks later Italy asked for the two to go on parole again, this time to vote in their elections; again, with the same assurances, the Supreme Court of India allowed them to do so.

Now Italy has breached its undertaking to the Supreme Court and refused to return them, saying India is in breach of international law, and Italy has sent the alleged gunmen back to normal work without even any purported trial of facts in the case under Italian law or Italian military law.

The Italian Ambassador would normally be in clear Contempt of Court—except he has diplomatic immunity and cannot be arrested or prosecuted.  India, it seems to me, has no recourse but to take the drastic measure of declaring the Italian Ambassador and perhaps others of his staff persona non grata, and to expect an equivalent retaliatory measure from Italy, and for a chill in trade and business relations and tourism etc to set in for a while before things can get better.  Diplomatic expulsions need to demonstrate swiftness of purpose because they are a metaphor for warfare; waiting until March 22 because it is a court deadline or to give the other side a chance to respond is both tedious and silly. Besides, an expulsion is retaliated with by an expulsion usually; where it is not, it is the diplomatic equivalent of a military surrender.

It is an unfortunate rift in relations between friendly countries due to a random event on the high seas; it required the right application of international law to the facts, which neither Government separately or together managed to do; that was something I have feared and warned against from when it started.  In June, the local Italian Government consul asked to meet me and came to be fully apprised by me of what I thought the legal facts were and what could be done in the interests of justice. But they chose not to accept the advice.

Dr. Subroto Roy blogs at www.independentindian.com.

  1. Viz., “Article 101 Piracy consists of . . . any illegal acts of violence . . . committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed . . . on the high seas, against another ship . . . or against persons or property on board such ship.”

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Here be a piracy tribunal ...

Prosecuting and Adjudicating Maritime Piracy Cases in the Seychelles

Here be a piracy tribunal …

Join the University of Denver Sturm College of Law as we host a conversation with Puisne Judge Duncan Gaswaga, a judge with the Supreme Court of Seychelles.  When in 2010 Seychelles enacted a statute granting its courts universal jurisdiction over suspected pirates brought into the country, its courts have become a hub for piracy prosecutions   Coupled with its location in the Indian Ocean and the favorable laws, Seychelles’ United Nations-backed special tribunal has been busy.  Although not an international tribunal, which some envision as a strong tool to combat maritime piracy, this tribunal supports regional prosecutions.

Join us for the Skype conversation, today at noon.  Judge Gaswaga’s conversation will be recorded and posted here.  Check back later for the video.

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Pirate or FIsherman?

On Pirates, PMSCs, and Signature Strikes

The media’s coverage of maritime piracy has changed markedly as of late. In 2010, stories characterized piracy as a ballooning problem with pirates’ changing tactics outpacing those of international navies. The result was a marked increase in attacks and hijackings. Today, however, stories are more likely to focus on diminished profits in the insurance industry, languishing pirate villages, or out-of work prostitutes. This change is not unwarranted. Reported incidents of piracy have seen a steady decline from 2010 to 2012, with only 70 incidents attributed to Somalia this year, less than half the number reported during the same period in 2011.

Though industry best management practices and steady international naval support have undoubtedly played a role in piracy’s reported decline, the phenomenon is best explained through the increased use of private maritime security companies (PMSCs) aboard merchant vessels transiting pirate infested waters. These guards are used on anywhere between 30% and 60% of all ships, and over half of 2012’s attempted attacks were carried out on ships with private armed guards. To date, not one pirate attack has been successfully conducted on a ship with armed guards on board.

Yet the picture is not all rosy. These guards operate in a legal grey area where incident reporting is considered to be a matter between the private security company and the shipping company who hired it. Neither of these entities have an incentive to report attacks, as reporting increases potential legal liability and insurance costs. Accordingly, those who believe that all incidents of piracy get reported are few and far between.

From all this, a central themes emerges. It is clear that these guards have had a real impact on piracy, but the full extent and nature of that impact remains obscure. The secrecy inherent in a purely private security scheme devoid of outside political pressure has left the public in the dark as to the true extent of piracy in the Indian Ocean, not to mention the extent to which innocent fishermen are caught in the crossfire.

Considering the identifying characteristics, tactics, and interests of the parties involved suggests some similarities between the way private armed guards report piracy attacks and the way the United States government reports signature drone strikes.

Pirate or Fisherman?

The first thing to know is that it is extremely difficult to distinguish coastal fishermen from pirates. This is true for several discrete and mutually reinforcing reasons. Chief among them is the simple fact that pirates steal fishermen’s boats to use them as pirate skiffs, making the two crafts literally impossible to distinguish. Moreover, Somalia is a country with 870,000 guns, only 1.6% of which are registered. In Somalia, possession of an AK-47 alone does not make someone a pirate. It would not be unusual to find such a weapon aboard a bona fide fishing vessel. Finally, local fishermen have been known to approach large shipping vessels either to catch the fish that are stirred up in the larger vessel’s wake or to protect their nets from being destroyed by the large ships travelling increasingly close to the coastline. Between the similarities in appearance and tactics among pirates and fishermen, distinguishing the two is no small feat.

This possibility of confusion does not change the laws of physics that put the AK-47’s operational range at 300-350 meters. Nor does it change the laws of economics that have led to the AK-47’s ubiquity in the region. These operational realities have led to the reported practice of warning shots being fired when an unidentified skiff is over 500m away from the tanker and more direct fire as the skiff approaches the 300 meter mark.

Taken together, the apparent similarities between fishermen and pirates and the range at which PMSCs engage an approaching skiff creates a significant (but currently un-knowable) possibility of false positives. False positives that look something like this: private armed guards fire at a skiff belonging to fishermen, assuming those fishermen to be pirates. The fishermen then decide that the net they are trying to save or the fish they are trying to catch is not worth risking their lives. The fishermen leave the vicinity of the tanker before a positive identification can be made, and the PMSC either reports the encounter as a pirate attack or does not report it at all.

In this way, PMSC reporting practice resembles that applied to the now infamous “signature drone strikes.” As reported in the New York Times, the Obama administration has taken to “count[ing] all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants . . .  unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent. Counterterrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good.”

This dubious reporting practice has led to wild discrepancies in the reported number of civilians killed by drones. Officially, the number of civilians killed in Pakistan is either “in the single digits” or around 30 in a yearlong stretch, depending on which official you ask. Unofficially, the New America Foundation thinks that the number could be as low as 152 and Pakistanbodycount.org says that it could be as high as 2,412.

As with civilians killed by drone strikes, the proportion of incidents attributable to pirates as opposed to fishermen is anyone’s guess. This is because in both areas, the security provider agrees on a tactic and then interprets the outcome in the light most favorable to the provider in the absence of effective outside pressure to use a more rigorous method.

This is not to say that the percentage of false positives is necessarily high – either in the case of pirate attacks or signature strikes. It is just to say that nobody knows what the real numbers are, be they high or low. It is presently impossible to make a credible assumption either way.

Chances are high, however, that the number of times PMSCs have fired upon fishermen in the last two years is more than zero, which is the officially reported statistic. Unless some accountability is brought to bear on the reporting process, it is a safe bet that “probably up to no good” is the standard to which pirates, fishermen, terrorists, and civilians alike will be held.

Jon Bellish is a Project Officer at the Oceans Beyond Piracy Project just outside Denver, CO. All the views expressed are his own. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Justices of the US Supreme Court

Kiobel Oral Argument: Piracy May Spell Trouble for Shell

Justices of the US Supreme Court

The Supreme Court opened up its October term with a healthy dose of international law in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Shell. The petitioner, Esther Kiobel, is bringing suit against Royal Dutch Shell (Shell) alleging that the oil company aided and abetted the Nigerian government in committing gross human rights violations in the oil rich Ogoni region of Nigeria.

This is the second time this year that the Court has heard Paul Hoffman’s arguments in favor of the plaintiffs and Kathleen Sullivan’s arguments on behalf of Shell, and maritime piracy played a role in both rounds of arguments.

The first round of Kiobel oral arguments considered whether the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) could be applied to corporations as well as natural persons. There, Justice Breyer evoked the concept of “Pirates, Incorporated” to inquire into whether a rem action against an 18th century pirate could be foreclosed because “Pirates, Inc.,” rather than the individual pirate, owned the property at issue.

In the second round of oral arguments, held yesterday morning, the issue had changed from whether the ATS can be applied to corporations to whether it can be applied extraterritorially. Despite this change of focus, maritime piracy played an even more important substantive role in the second iteration of the Kiobel arguments than the first.

Piracy first came up when Justice Scalia asked Royal Dutch Shell’s attorney, Kathleen Sullivan, whether she believed – as Scalia thought she “must” – that the ATS applied to high seas conduct. She did not. Ms. Sullivan then quickly tried to turn her argument to the Marbois incident concerning an assault on a French diplomat.

But Chief Justice Roberts immediately raised the question of piracy again, noting that “it was the most clear violation of an international norm” at the time of the ATS’s passage.

Ms. Sullivan again attempted to minimize her high seas argument, noting that even if the justices concluded that the ATS reached high seas conduct, it does not extend into the territory of another state. However, she doubled down when she argued that Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain – the last ATS case heard by the Supreme Court – does not foreclose the possibility that the ATS’s reach stops at the high seas, as that opinion stated that piracy might be an area covered by the statute.

Despite her repeated attempts to stray away the issue of piracy, the oldest international crime came up again and again, including in the context of Filartiga v. Peña-Irala, where the Second Circuit held that, “[f]or the purposes of civil liability, the torturer has become – like the pirate and slave trader before him – an enemy of all mankind.”

As Shell’s attorney, Ms. Sullivan wished to steer clear of the issue of maritime piracy for several reasons. The first is that the Supreme Court explicitly found that the First Congress meant to include piracy as one of three torts available to 18th century ATS plaintiffs. The Supreme Court would likely be reluctant to admit that it was wrong less than a decade after Sosa was handed down.

Second, foreclosing ATS claims that occur on the high seas is the furthest possible extension of the respondents’ argument, one that the majority need not adopt to reach the respondents’ desired verdict.

Finally – and this may have been what Justice Scalia was getting at when he initially posed the question – it is difficult to find an example of an American law that applies on the high seas but not on foreign soil.[1] The presumption against extraterritoriality is purely a creature of Congressional intent, and it seems that Congress rarely distinguishes between the high seas and foreign soil when considering a statute’s extraterritoriality.

If the conservatives on the Supreme Court find the argument that ATS application on the high seas and on another country’s soil rises and falls together persuasive, there is enough historical evidence that the ATS was meant to apply to piracy that more newly-minted universal violations could ride on piracy’s coattails and allow for extraterritorial application of the ATS.

The effect such an opinion would have on pending litigation over a high seas requirement for facilitators of piracy is better saved for another day.

This is cross-posted at Communis Hostis Omnium.

[1] Depending on the ultimate outcome of pending litigation, a notable exception to this general rule could be, however ironically, 18 USC § 1651, the statute criminalizing piracy.

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One Hundred Acres

The Tragedy of Universal Jurisdiction

Picture a medieval town, 110 acres in size and populated entirely by 10 cattle ranchers. Each rancher lives on a 1 acre parcel of land that together surround a 100 acre open space used for grazing cattle.

One Hundred Acres

If the 100 acre open space is shared by all 10 ranchers in common, each herder has a strong and continuing incentive to increase the size of his herd. For each additional cow sent to pasture, the individual herder receives the full benefit of one additional cow’s milk or meat. Yet because the grazing land is shared by all 10 ranchers in common, each herder suffers only 10% of the harm caused by that additional cow, which comes in the form of deterioration of the common grazing land.

Over time, however, as the ranchers realize this economic advantage and add additional heads of cattle to the pasture, the common land’s overall grazing capacity will diminish to the point that the land is no longer usable for any of our 10 medieval ranchers, leaving them all with less milk and meat than they would have had otherwise.

This parable, known as the “Tragedy of the Commons,” is well known to anyone who has sat through a college level economics class. It is often cited as a key rationale for the private ownership of property, illustrated in this case through the privatization of the grazing pasture that forced each herder to account for the full cost and benefit of each additional cow sent to pasture.

Other commons problems include population growth, fisheries, and pollution. In each scenario, the idea is that allocating costs and benefits in individuals – rather than in communities – is the surest way to ensure that resources are accurately valued and efficiently employed.

In its own way, the modern prosecution of pirates presents something of a commons problem, with prosecution under a theory of universal jurisdiction standing in for common grazing space and prosecution using a more direct theory of jurisdiction representing the enclosure of that common space.

Where a state prosecutes a pirate under the theory of universal jurisdiction, that state bears the vast majority – if not all – of the cost of the extradition, trial, and imprisonment of the suspect. While those costs are both real and substantial, the benefits are much less so. A prosecuting state asserting universal jurisdiction is fulfilling its international obligation to combat piracy as well as making the high seas marginally safer for international shipping traffic, but these benefits flow to the international community as a whole, in equal measure. No benefits fall discretely to the prosecuting state.

On the other hand, if a state prosecutes under territorial, nationality, passive personality, or protective jurisdiction, the costs of prosecution remain the same, but the benefits become both more sizable and more concrete. In addition to the undifferentiated benefits of a universal jurisdiction prosecution, the prosecuting state is either protecting its territorial integrity, punishing a national for committing piracy, vindicating violence committed against a citizen, or protecting its own political and economic interests, depending on the chosen theory of jurisdiction.

This brings us back to the classic commons parable involving the cattle ranchers.

In that example, the common grazing of land led to internalized benefits and externalized costs, which in turn led to an increase in economic activity even if such activity was imprudent in the long run. When the commons was enclosed, both costs and benefits were internalized within the individual rancher, who then tended to have the “right” amount of cattle on his pasture thereby improving every rancher’s individual prospects along with the prospects of the group.

Universal jurisdiction piracy prosecutions lead to a similar (though converse) situation where costs are internalized and benefits externalized such that under-prosecuting – as opposed to over-grazing – is the norm. If the benefits of prosecution are internalized within a given state through a more substantial basis for jurisdiction, the chances of a prosecution should actually increase.

Indeed, the facts on the ground suggest that piracy prosecutions can be viewed as a commons problem. In a 2010 empirical study, Eugene Kontorovich found that between 1998 and 2009, only fourteen out of the 1,063 reported piracies in international waters resulted in a universal jurisdiction prosecution, a rate of 1.31%.

Put another way, a state is over 75 times more likely to prosecute a pirate when the costs and benefits of prosecution – rather than just the costs – fall to that state. This is exactly what one would expect under the commons formulation.

In a simpler world, one in which more jurisdictional avenues are better than fewer, the idea that a pirate negotiator who neither enters into an ex ante agreement with the pirates nor is physically present on the high seas has not committed a crime of universal jurisdiction may appear to be a hindrance to the international community seeking to put an end to maritime piracy.

Yet both facts and theory tell a different story. States are much more likely to assert jurisdiction based on the territorial, national, passive personality, or protective theories of jurisdiction than universality, and if prosecuting pirates is fashioned as a commons issue, this is exactly what economic theory would predict.

When considering jurisdictional avenues to prosecute pirate negotiators at least, less can be more.

Jon Bellish is a Project Officer at the Oceans Beyond Piracy project in Boulder, Colorado (though all of his views are his own), and he has experience in United States piracy trials. He just got on Twitter. This article is cross-posted on Communis Hostis Omnium.

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Mohammad Saaili Shibin 
(AP Image)

Will the United States Play a Role in Prosecuting Pirate “Kingpins?”

Somalia has no trouble producing pirates. Between a central government that controls little beyond the capitol city of Mogadishu, an utter lack of economic opportunity for young men, and a 3,025 mile long coastline with access to the world’s busiest shipping corridors, for every Somali pirate captured at sea, there are many more waiting to take his place. Accordingly, one of the most promising means to put an end to this global menace is the prosecution and detention of the financiers of pirate action groups – those benefitting most from lawlessness in the Indian Ocean but never actually setting foot on a boat.

Mohammad Saaili Shibin (AP Image)

The Eastern District of Virginia and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals are in the process of hearing two separate cases that, taken together, could decide whether or not the United States of America will have any role in the prosecution of these so-called “kingpins” of piracy.

One case, United States v. Shibin, is just beginning the trial phase and is the United States first attempt to prosecute a high level facilitator of piracy. The case concerns Mohammad Saaili Shibin’s role in the hijackings of the M/V Marida Marguerite and the S/V Quest. In both attacks, Shibin’s role was that of translator and hostage negotiator. Shibin was paid between $30,000 and $50,000 for his role in the M/V Marida Marguerite attack but was paid nothing in for his role in the S/V Quest, as all hostages were killed before a ransom could be negotiated. Shibin confessed to his role in both hijackings to American authorities.

At issue is, inter alia, whether Shibin can be charged with Piracy under 18 U.S.C. § 1651, which outlaws “piracy as defined by the law of nations” and carries with it a mandatory life sentence.

Because Judge Robert G. Doumar denied the defendant’s motion to suppress his confessions, it will be difficult for Mr. Shibin to argue that he did not participate in the hijackings in the manner alleged. Instead, his case will rise and fall on the way the Fourth Circuit settles a split on the legal question of whether “piracy as defined by the law of nations” is an evolving or a static concept.

This legal question comes to the Fourth Circuit in the context of a split within the Eastern District of Virginia on two cases with essentially the same set of facts. In both United States v. Said and United States v. Hasan, the defendants set out to plunder a merchant vessel and fired upon what they believed to be such a vessel. In both cases, the would-be pirates were actually firing upon a United States Naval vessel.

In Said, the trial court held that § 1651 should be interpreted in light of the nineteenth century definition of piracy, which included only “robbery at sea.” Because the defendants in Said only fired upon a ship and never actually stole anything, their acts did not rise to the level of piracy.

The Hasan trial court, on the other hand, found that “the ‘law of nations’ connotes a changing body of law,” and that Congress meant to keep pace with those changes as they relate to maritime piracy when they drafted § 1651. The court went on to find that the contemporary definition of general piracy under customary international law is embodied in the High Seas Convention and UNCLOS,1 both of which define piracy as:

(A) (1) any illegal act of violence or detention, or any act of depredation; (2) committed for private ends; (3) on the high seas or a place outside the jurisdiction of any state; (4) by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft; (5) and directed against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft; or

(B) (1) any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or an aircraft; (2) with knowledge of the facts making it a pirate ship; or

(C) (1) any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating (2) an act described in subparagraph (A) or (B).

The cases of United States v. Shibin and United States v. Hasan are therefore inexorably tied to one another. If the Fourth Circuit overrules the Hasan trial court and holds that, for the purposes of § 1651, piracy only includes armed robbery at sea, none of the defendants in Hasan, Said, and Shibin are guilty of a crime under that statute. If it affirms the Hasan trial court’s holding that that the definition of piracy under the law of nations has expanded to include the definition embodied in UNCLOS and the High Seas Convention the result will almost certainly be the opposite. The defendants in Hasan and Said would be guilty of piracy resulting from acts of violence on the high seas, and Mohammad Saaili Shibin would be guilty of intentionally facilitating piracy. Though Shibin, as a translator and hostage negotiator, would be considered a mid-level pirate at best, the same legal reasoning that applies to him will apply to higher level facilitators who “incit[e] or . . . intentionally facilitat[e]” piracy but do not themselves commit robbery at sea.

An interpretation of § 1651 as embodying an evolving definition of piracy would make the United States an excellent venue to prosecute the financiers and facilitators of piracy, as the level of due process afforded to the defendants would be unassailable and the mandatory life sentence imposed by § 1651 would be a strong deterrent. Prosecuting these “kingpins” is, apart from solving Somalia’s broader governance problems, the surest way to put an end to maritime piracy in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Seas. Hopefully the American judicial system can adapt to this modern realities of maritime piracy.

  1. Actually, this conceptualization of piracy was first announced in a 1932 study on the international law of piracy conducted by Harvard University and later incorporated into the Law of the Sea Treaty in 1958 and reproduced in UNCLOS in 1982.

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The High Court of Kerala

The Enrica Lexie and Unintentional Terrorism

Cross-posted at piracy-law.com

An interesting exchange took place at the High Court of Kerala on Friday between presiding Justice PS Gopinathan and VJ Matthew, counsel for the owner of the Enrica Lexie. Regardless of the level of significance one attributes to Justice Gopinathan’s remarks, the dialogue sheds light on the tension and deep mistrust surrounding the events of February 15th.

Mr. Matthews, representing Dolphin Tankers argued that the Italian marines had to be classified as terrorists in order for the India’s statute implementing the IMO’s SUA Convention (SUA Act)[1] to apply. In response, Justice Gopinathan said, “[t]he firing on Indian fishermen by two Italian marines- Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone-off the Kerala coast was an act of terrorism…As far as victims are concerned, their relatives are concerned, as far as Indians are concerned [the alleged shooting was] a terrorist act.”

The High Court of Kerala

To be fair, Justice Gopinathan did not declare the Italian marines terrorists as a matter of law. He merely stated that that is how the general public viewed them. It is nonetheless disturbing for an officer of an Indian High Court to give voice to his private opinion about the facts of a case before him, especially when that opinion deviates so far from reality.

Where Mr. Matthew’s claims are concerned, it is far from certain that the marines must be classified as terrorists for the SUA Act to apply. Although the SUA Convention was passed with the goal of suppressing international terrorism in mind,[2] the Convention seeks to achieve its aim by proscribing acts, not classes of people. Article 3 of the SUA Convention lists the crimes punishable under the Convention, stating that if “any person” “performs an act of violence against a person on board a ship if that act is likely to endanger the safe navigation of that ship,” that person has “commit[ted] an offense” under the Convention. Similarly, the SUA Act states that “whoever unlawfully and intentionally” commits an act of violence against a person on board a ship has violated the Act and is subject to punishment for that act under Indian law.[3]

The words “terror,” “terrorist,” or “terrorism” do not appear at all in the operative clauses of the SUA Convention, nor do they appear in any portion of India’s SUA Act. Thus Mr. Matthew’s argument that legal classification as a terrorist is a prerequisite to be charged under the SUA Act appears at odds with the text of the SUA Act itself and the Convention upon which it is based.

But Justice Gopinathan’s response to Mr. Matthew’s good faith legal claim was far more dubious than the claim itself. Rather than satisfying himself by pointing out that an individual need not be legally classified as a terrorist for the SUA Act to apply, Justice Gopinathan declared by fiat, and counter to all reason, that the Italian marines had indeed committed “an act of terrorism.”

Though some argue that there is simply no internationally recognized definition of terrorism,[4] Judge Antonio Cassese, presiding over the Appeals Chamber at Special Tribunal for Lebanon, announced last year that a definition of terrorism “has gradually emerged” in customary international law.[5] According to the STL, terrorism is defined under customary international law as consisting of the following three elements:

(i) the perpetration of a criminal act (such as murder, kidnapping, hostage-taking, arson, and so on), or threatening such an act; (ii) the intent to spread fear among the population (which would generally entail the creation of public danger) or directly or indirectly coerce a national or international authority to take some action, or to refrain from taking it; (iii) when the act involves a transnational element.

Of the three enumerated elements, only the third, that the act must involve a transnational element, is clearly present. As for the second, there is no way to argue that the Italian marines fired upon the Indian vessel to spread fear among the Indian population or coerce the Indian government. They were acting as agents of the Italian government charged with the protection of a merchant vessel from the real and credible threat of maritime piracy. The unfortunate deaths of two fishermen do not change the character of the marines’ actions. Finally, it is presently impossible to know whether the Italians’ acts could be considered “murder” under the first prong. That determination can only be made once a competent tribunal establishes that the Italians were in fact the ones who shot the Indians and entertains any affirmative claim of self-defense made by the marines.

Furthermore, the alleged acts of the marines fails to satisfy even the minimal, “core definition” of terrorism propsed by Professor Marcello Di Filippo in the European Journal of International Law.[6] After surveying relevant international and domestic laws and sloughing aside any contested definitional aspect of terrorism, Professor Di Filippo concludes that an act of terrorism requires, at the very least: (i) an act of violence; (ii) when that act is targeted at civilians.[7] According to Di Filippo, this core definition is the absolute minimum standard under which an act could be properly considered terrorism.

Implicit in Di Filippo’s core definition is the requirement that the actor must at least believe that the targets are civilians, and one could even argue that the actor must intend to target the victims because they are civilians. Thus unless the Indian authorities can prove, at minimum, that the Italians knew that the Indians were unarmed before firing upon them, the acts of the marines do not rise to the level of terrorism. Justice Gopinathan’s statement that the marines committed a “terrorist act” accuses the Italians of a crime that does not exist – negligent or reckless terrorism.

An oral pronouncement by a Justice with no legal ramifications is hardly a groundbreaking development in what will surely be an interesting case. It does, however, illustrate the depth of mistrust between the Italians and Indians in this particular instance, with the Italians accusing the Indians of a vast conspiracy involving fabricated evidence and the Indians accusing the Italians of murder and now, apparently, terrorism. We are thus back where we started: waiting for the results of the ballistics report and hoping, perhaps against the available evidence, that cooler heads will prevail and due process will be afforded to all.

[1] Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against Safety of Maritime Navigation and Fixed Platforms on Continental Shelf Act, 2002

[2] The Preamble of the SUA Convention notes that the state parties are “DEEPLY CONCERNED about the world-wide escalation of acts of terrorism in all its forms.”

[3] The Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against Safety of Maritime Navigation and Fixed Platforms on Continental Shelf Act, 2002 Act No. 69 of 2002, art. 3(1)(a) (Dec. 20, 2002).

[4] Jean-Marc Sorel, Some Questions About Terrorism and the Fight Against its Financing, 14 Eur. J Int’l L. 365, 368 (2003) (describing the “confused mix” of definitions).

[5] Interlocutory Decision on the Applicable Law: Terrorism, Conspiracy, Homicide, Perpetration, Cumulative Charging, Case No. STL-11-01/I, at para. 83 (Feb. 16, 2011), available at http://www.stl-tsl.org/x/file/TheRegistry/Library/CaseFiles/chambers/20110216_STL-11-01_R176bis_F0010_AC_Interlocutory_Decision_Filed_EN.pdf

[6] Marcello Di Filippo, Terrorist Crimes and International Co-Operation: Critical Remarks on the Definition of Terrorism in the Category of International Crimes, 19 Eur. J. Int’l L. 533 (2008).

[7] Id. at 558-61.

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Direct application of the international law of piracy in municipal systems

Cross-posted at piracy-law.com

Most legal authorities assume that signing and ratifying the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea is insufficient, in and of itself, to provide a state a jurisdictional basis to prosecute acts of piracy on the high seas.  For example, Jose Luis Jesus, the former President of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea has explained:

The international legal regime on piracy, as codified in articles 100 to 107 of UNCLOS, is, as already mentioned, a jurisdictional regime and, as such, only allows States to arrest pirates, seize their ships and cargo, and bring them to trial in the State’s domestic judicial system. This legal regime is not predicated on the existence of an international criminal substantive law, nor does it contemplate any international judicial means or structure to try pirates.

As it stands now, there is no international court or tribunal that includes in its jurisdiction a mandate to try pirates. Once a State asserts its jurisdiction over pirates and their ship by arresting them, under the international piracy regime, that State is encouraged to try the pirates and dispose of the pirate ship and its cargo in accordance with its own national legislation and judicial system. This means that if the arresting State does not have penal legislation allowing for the punishment of pirates, or if the arresting State does not want to try them in its own territory for political or other convenience, then the legal regime as codified in UNCLOS is of little use.

Similarly, the most recent UNSG report of 19 January 2012 on the problem of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea states that UNCLOS provides for universal jurisdiction to prosecute pirates, but since Benin’s Maritime Code does not incorporate these provisions, Benin’s jurisdiction on piracy acts committed on the high seas is limited to acts committed by its citizens or on board of Benin’s ships.  The same concern has been expressed regarding the failure of the Transitional Federal Government to pass legislation criminalizing piracy in Somalia. Finally, based on UNCLOS Article 100 which requires that states must “cooperate to the fullest possible extent in the repression of piracy”, Douglas Guilfoyle has stated that “the inference is that States have no duty to enact relevant national offences [for piracy] and have ‘a certain latitude’ to cooperate in suppressing piracy by means other than prosecution.”


This view is understandable when observed through the lens of treaty law whereby implementing legislation is a necessary prerequisite to application within a municipal system. But the international law of piracy has also been accepted as customary law. For example, the 2010 Digest of US Practice in International Law, though noting the U.S. has not signed or ratified UNCLOS, states, “the actions and statements of the Executive Branch over more than six decades reflect the consistent U.S. view that this definition [of piracy in Article 101 of UNCLOS] is both reflective of customary international law and universally accepted by states.” Furthermore, each of the UN Security Council resolutions on piracy in Somalia and the Gulf of Guinea have emphasized that the only definition for the crime of piracy in international law is the one set forth in UNCLOS to which 162 states are states parties. UNCLOS has codified the customary international law of piracy.

Considering the law of piracy is settled both in treaty as well as customary law, is it possible that it is directly applicable in municipal systems without the need for implementing legislation? Some states accept that international law, especially with regard to jus cogens or very serious crimes (such as crimes against humanity and war crimes), applies directly within that state without the need to pass such legislation. With regard to piracy, whether or not it may apply directly would appear to hinge on a number of factors, including the gravity of the offence, whether there is a duty to prosecute in international law, whether the applicable treaties are self-executing, and the nature of a municipal system as monist or dualist. (Ward N. Ferdinandusse’s study is particularly helpful on this point.) Direct application of international law is not without precedent in African states, but will obviously need to be addressed on a case by case basis. To cite but one intriguing example, the 2010 Kenyan Constitution provides in Article 2 that the general rules of international law shall form part of the law of Kenya and that any treaty or convention ratified by Kenya shall form part of the law of Kenya under the Constitution.

The somewhat academic question of the indirect or direct application of international legal norms may not have been addressed by many African states confronted with piracy. Therefore, in the absence of clarity on this issue, the least risky practice would be to assume there is no direct application and insist on the codification of the legal definition of piracy in municipal law prior to instituting any prosecution. Indeed this seems to be the strategy adopted by the UN Security Council Resolutions on the issue. Is it, nonetheless, possible that the international law of piracy is directly applicable in certain African states, thereby rendering criminalization in positive law superfluous? The answer could have important ramifications for prosecutions in states without anti-piracy legislation or in those with incomplete legislative frameworks.

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The Enrica Lexie

Armed Maritime Security and the Enrica Lexie

A dramatic story of death at sea has recently ignited both the Indian and Italian press. The story has yet to reach the United States, but it has all the makings of a headline-maker. Two Italian military personnel, operating as armed guards aboard the merchant vessel Enrica Lexie, are being investigated for the murder of two Indian fishermen at sea. Like any good news story, this one starts with a conflicting version of the events.

The Enrica Lexie

According to the Italians, the incident occurred 33 nautical miles off of the Indian coast at around 2:30pm Indian time. Italian Naval personnel aboard the Enrica Lexie spotted a vessel heading its way and identified five armed men above deck. After attempting to radio the vessel and shooting flares, the Italian guards fired three sets of warning shots at 500m, 300m, and 100m. The final set of shots was fired “into the sea across the bows of the fishing boat, which was not hit and in fact changed direction and turned back.” The Italian report disclaimed the possibility of any casualties. This version of the events is incomplete at best, as it fails to account for the two Indian fishermen who perished at sea.

The Indians, on the other hand, claim that the shooting occurred only 14 nautical miles off the coast at 5:00pm Indian time. The fishing vessel was crewed by eleven men, nine of whom were below deck sleeping at the time of the incident. The only two men above deck were shot by the Italian guards in what is being described by the Indian press as “murder by a better-equipped party on high seas.” The implication is that the Italian guards used force hastily, perhaps even ethnically profiling the fishermen as pirates.

Despite these conflicting stories, two things remain certain: a pair of Indian fishermen, Ajesh Binki, age 25, and Jalastein, age 45, were killed at sea, and a pair of Italian marines, Latorre Massimiliano and Salvatore Girone, are being held in police custody in India. If charged with murder under section 302 of the Indian penal code, the crime for which they have been charged, the Italians could face the death penalty. This is not likely to happen.

Though capital punishment is not a likely outcome, as India has only executed one person in the last 17 years, a murder trial in India would be a miscarriage of justice and a clear violation of international law. According to UNCLOS art. 2, a state’s territorial waters extend 12 nautical miles from its coast. Art. 33 provides for an additional contiguous zone extending up to 24 nautical miles from the baselines used to measure the breadth of the territorial sea.

Thus even if India’s version of the events is to be believed in its entirety, the incident occurred 2 nautical miles outside of India’s territorial waters, in its contiguous zone. There, art. 33 only allows India to “prevent infringement of its customs, fiscal, immigration or sanitary laws.” This is not to say that India has no claim against Italy whatsoever, but Indian penal law simply cannot apply to a set of events taking place outside its jurisdiction.

Jurisdiction therefore falls to Italy as the flag state under art. 94 of UNCLOS, who should conduct a full, impartial investigation involving Indian authorities. Indeed under two of the three possible scenarios, the Italian marines may indeed be guilty of the unlawful killing, or even murder, of these two Indian fishermen.

There are therefore three potential scenarios to be considered.  Under the first scenario, the Italian Navy reported the events truthfully and to the best of their knowledge shortly/immediately after the incident’s occurrence. The Italian guards either believed they saw guns aboard the Indian vessel or actually saw guns, which were subsequently thrown overboard. Under this scenario, the Indian fishermen simply lied about the number of men that were above deck. Either way, the Indians ignored a radio call, flares, and two sets of warning shots, the third of which hit the wheelhouse and killed Binki and Jalastein. The Italians filed the report honestly, believing that nobody had been hurt. This would be an example of guards employing a proper, graduated use of force regime that resulted in the accidental death of careless fishermen. Frankly, the Italian’s report is difficult to square with the facts on the ground. Two men are dead from gunshot wounds, and more bullets were reportedly found on the deck of the Indian fishing vessel. This flatly contradicts the Italians’ report that, after firing over the bow, the fishing vessel turned and left the vicinity. A ballistics report must be done to confirm whether or not the bullets that killed the Indian fishermen and others found on their vessel were fired from the Enrica Lexie.

The second scenario is one where the Indian press has the facts largely correct, and the Italian guards improperly fired upon an innocent vessel. The Italian’s report would therefore be erroneous as it relates to the fishermen’s deaths. At best, the Italians fired a fourth set of shots at the wheelhouse, which it did not report. At worst, they assumed the fishermen were pirates and fired upon them without due warning. This version of the events is similarly problematic, as the Italian Navy is confirmed to have reported the event. It is difficult to imagine that the Italian military personnel, having knowingly killed two individuals at sea be they fishermen or pirates, would report the incident while simultaneously concealing the fact that two men had been killed by omitting it from their report. The truth is likely somewhere between these competing versions.

One compelling, though highly speculative, version occupying this middle ground is a simple case of mistaken identity. Here, both the Indians and the Italians are telling the truth, though the latter party is only telling half the truth. Under this scenario, we can assume there were two separate incidents. Armed would-be pirates carried out the first at 2:30pm, approximately 33 nautical miles at sea, and were repelled by the Italian guards’ show of force. Then, two-and-a-half hours later, 14 nautical miles off the Indian coast, a vessel full of nine fishermen had gotten quite close to the Enrica Lexie, as part of an apparently common practice where fishermen follow large crafts closely in hopes of catching fish stirred up in the larger ship’s wake. The Italian marines, still on alert from the previous attack, mistook the second vessel for the first and opened fire, killing two innocent men. If this scenario in fact took place, it is not only unacceptable, but it is also the specific reason that international law and practice has so strongly disfavored the presence of guns aboard merchant vessels.

Regardless of which scenario turns out to be most accurate, India has an obligation to release the Italian marines it is currently holding because they were not within the 12 nm territorial waters, and Italy has an equally powerful obligation to conduct a full and impartial investigation to learn the truth. The Italian guards should be held criminally responsible in Italy if they are found to have used unlawful force Hopefully this story will accelerate the international movement to regulate the use of private armed guards and mandate incident reporting. The international community cannot stand by as the Indian Ocean turns into a lawless frontier, potentially claiming innocent bystanders as victims.

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Somali pirates (news.charlesayoub.com)

News Post: Somali Piracy: A Continuing Problem?

Somali pirates (news.charlesayoub.com)

Last week, U.S. Navy seals rescued Poul Hagen Thisted and Jessica Buchanan, after being held hostage in Somalia for three months.  Jon Huggins, director of the Oceans Beyond Piracy Project at One Earth Future, questioned why the US, thousands of miles away, was left to conduct this rescue.  In short, the US has the means to conduct such an operation, and Somalia does not have the resources to fight piracy on its own.  Despite the successful rescue of these aid workers, an international effort will be necessary to make any long-term progress with this problem.

Some, however, see this rescue as a potential turning point in the long “war” against piracy.  This accomplishment may show pirates that the international community is willing to take action against what has practically become the norm.  So far, efforts such as increased and more aggressive naval patrols seem to be helping reduce some piracy.  The EU Naval Force reported that in 2010, 47 ships were hijacked, and in 2011, the number was down to 25.  At the same time, the realization that there are increased efforts to combat piracy may cause pirates to develop new tactics and become more aggressive to counteract those increased efforts.  Land-based kidnappings, such as those of Thisted and Buchanan, may evidence these changing tactics.  The incentive to kidnap foreigners remains as high as ever, with $147 million paid for ransoms in 2011 alone.

As long as piracy is producing such lucrative ransom payments, it is unlikely that the problem will abate.  Although many governments make paying ransom illegal, it is often “the most efficient way to deal with piracy.”  In fact, prosecuting those who pay ransom is unlikely to prevent ship owners from continuing to do so.  In addition, such prosecution is unlikely to help counteract the problem in the long-term.  Some advocate for continued naval patrols as well as holding trials for suspected pirates within the region that these crimes take place.  Others, such as shipping operators and insurers, support the use of armed guards aboard ships.  Some countries, including the US, have passed laws permitting such action.  Each country is able to make its own laws on this issue under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, where every ship is subject to the jurisdiction of the country whose flag it carries.  Despite the existence of such laws, this is currently considered to be a highly controversial solution.

Although some feel that the international community is starting to make headway with the problem of piracy, many of the implemented and proposed solutions are likely to bring about new problems in this fight.  Piracy will likely continue to flourish as long as the pirates can respond to the efforts with new tactics.  In addition, until the international community can truly pull together and create a unified response, it will be very difficult to successfully combat piracy.

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University of Denver Sturm College of Law