US authorities have announced that they had made a major step in the war against Somali piracy, bringing the first case against a pirate leader. Mohammad Saali Shibbin, 50, who allegedly led a highjacking of an American yacht called The Quest, was arrested in Somalia in April. While the arrest and indictment of the senior pirate undoubtedly marks serious progress made by the US it still doesn’t solve the problem. Since Somali pirate groups usually act independently and don’t have a strict hierarchy the only effective way of eliminating the threat remains international cooperation.
“Today marks the first time that the U.S. government has captured and charged an alleged pirate in a leadership role — a hostage negotiator who operated in Somalia,” said U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride in a written statement. Mr. MacBride added that the arrest and charges against the pirate leader should “send a strong message to all pirates that they are not beyond the reach of the FBI, whether they board the ships or remain on-shore in Somalia.”
Mohammad Saaili Shibin was captured by Somali security forces. FBI agents were at the scene of the arrest, though there was no official statement confirming their involvement in the operation.
Shibin appeared at a detention hearing in a federal court in Norfolk, Virginia on Wednesday afternoon and is expected to remain in custody. Shibin is accused of leading a pirate attack on the American yacht The Quest and taking its crew hostage. Despite attempts to save their lives, all four hostages were shot dead by their captors. According to officials, a total of 19 pirates were involved in the highjacking – 4 of them were killed during the rescue operation and another 15 were captured and detained.
As the indictment says, one of the captured pirates aboard the Quest identified Shibin as the person who negotiated the terms for the release of the hostages. Shibin is also believed to have researched the hostages on the Quest via the Internet “to determine the amount of ransom to demand and the identity of the family members of the hostages whom he could contact about the ransom.”
All 15 pirates are charged with piracy, conspiracy to commit kidnapping and possession and use of a firearm during a crime of violence. The trial is scheduled for November 29. If proved guilty, Shibin and his partners in crime face the maximum penalty of life in prison.
While the American authorities praise the indictment of Shibin as a major success in the war on piracy, countless groups of pirates continue to terrorize Somali waters. Since each group can act absolutely autonomously, the only effective way to solve the problem seems to be the joining of efforts by the international community.
In early March, Russia proposed a project aimed at curtaining the threat of piracy off the Somalia coasts. The draft resolution called on the UN Security Council to create special courts to hear piracy cases and set international law standards which would close the loopholes in the legal system.
Last Monday, the U.N. Security Council backed the proposal but highlighted a number of problematic points of the project. In particular, questions of where to locate the special courts and how to prosecute the suspects remain the weakest links in the global effort to stop the terror in African waters.
A council resolution asked UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to report back within two months on how to deal with the ambitious moments. Monday’s resolution also called on countries to criminalize piracy and fund prisons in Somaliland and Puntland to hold captured pirates.
The problem is that another two months of waiting could spell in more troubles from pirates. At the moment, Somali pirates are holding at least 29 vessels and their crews demanding multi-million-dollar ransoms.