Five Somali men accused of attacking a U.S. Navy ship off Africa’s coast were convicted on federal piracy charges Wednesday, November 24, in what is considered to be the first trial of its kind in America in more than a century. The men face mandatory life terms in a sentencing hearing set for March 14 in Norfolk.
“Today marks the first jury conviction of piracy in more than 190 years,” said US Attorney MacBride. “These five Somali pirates were convicted of an armed assault on the high seas against what they thought was a merchant vessel, but turned out to be a US Navy frigate engaged in counter-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa.
The verdict was handed down by a jury in U.S. District Court in Norfolk. The five men, who wore earphones, stood silently as the verdict was read to them by an interpreter.
“They were just sad,” David Bouchard, who defended one of the five men, Abdi Wali Dire, said of the men’s reaction to the verdict.
The Somalis were indicted on April 21, 2010, and were later charged with additional crimes in a 14-count superseding indictment on July 7, 2010. According to evidence and trial testimony, the five men left Somalia in search of a merchant ship to pirate. They used a larger ship full of supplies, along with two smaller vessels loaded with assault weapons and a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) that served as attack boats. On April 1, 2010, Hasan, Ali, and Dire boarded one of these smaller vessels and set out to pirate what they believed to be a merchant ship, while Gurewardher and Umar remained onboard the large ship to maintain that ship during the attack.
Ali and Dire each carried an assault weapon, and Hasan carried an RPG. They opened fire on a ship, which they later discovered was the USS Nicholas, an Oliver Hazard Perry class frigate homeported in Norfolk, Va. The piracy conviction and the conviction for the use of a destructive device (an RPG) in relation to a crime of violence both carry a mandatory penalty of life in prison. In addition, they are facing a maximum of 10 years in prison for attack to plunder a vessel; a maximum of 20 years in prison for conspiracy and an act of violence against persons on a vessel; a maximum of 10 years in prison for assault with a dangerous weapon in the special maritime jurisdiction; a maximum of 20 years in prison for assault with a dangerous weapon on federal officers and employees; a maximum of 20 years in prison for conspiracy to use firearms during a crime of violence; a maximum of 10 years in prison for one count of use of a firearm during a crime of violence, a second firearm count carries an additional 25 years—to equal 35 years—in prison.
The investigation was conducted by the FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Assistant United States Attorneys Joseph DePadilla, John Davis, and Benjamin L Hatch from the Eastern District of Virginia and Trial Attorney Jerome Teresinski from the Department of Justice’s National Security Division prosecuted the case on behalf of the United States.
Published by maritime lawyer Gordon, Elias & Seely, LLP