Watchkeeper: Sending a message - piracy doesn't pay!
How do we transmit a message to the effect that piracy is not a profit centre for the poor of Somalia, but a serious crime which attracts punishment? The answer is obvious ? make sure that pirates are apprehended, put on trial and if guilty, given a sizeable gaol sentence that is sufficient to act as a deterrent.
What is evidently not effective is if pirates, caught in the act, are merely disarmed and sent on their way, or even helped along with some free fuel and food if they are far from land, or even put ashore by the apprehending warship on their home coast. It gives the worst sort of message to the pirates that the risks involved in carrying out their crimes are minimal compared to the potential rewards in the event that they successfully capture a merchant ship.
There are rather more than 100 suspected pirates who have in fact been captured by the naval forces currently protecting merchant vessels, and thanks to an accord with the Government of Kenya, are being held to await trial on Kenyan soil. Altogether, some twelve cases against suspected pirates are pending, and it is clearly important that if these people are indeed guilty, they do not escape punishment through lack of evidence. This of course immediately poses difficulties in first of all finding witnesses who may have been on ships which had been attacked but who, because of the lives lived by merchant mariners, changing their ships and employers, may be at sea on voyages or otherwise dispersed all around the world. By contrast, naval witnesses may be rather more readily available.
BIMCO has been working hard to advise the Naval Legal Authorities and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime of the practical realities of reaching witnesses, who may require considerable time before they can be available. The organisation has appealed to the legal authorities to provide as much notice of an upcoming trial as possible.
The good news is that travel and accommodation costs incurred by witnesses at these trials will be borne by the UNODC/EUNAVFOR and BIMCO will act as a conduit where necessary. The UN body will develop a procedure to ensure that contact and information is maintained with owners, operators, masters and witnesses from the time that the prosecution identifies the need for witnesses.
Is it important for seafarers, who might have been the victims of pirates or the subject of attacks, to attend these proceedings? They are, quite simply, likely to be needed because of the Kenyan legal requirements which revolve around a system of verbal evidence and cross examination. If there is insufficient evidence to successfully convict, it is possible that serious criminals will escape justice.
To a certain extent, the whole system that has been put in place to prosecute pirates in Kenya is itself on trial. The international community has worked hard with the Kenyan authorities to develop the concept and it is hoped that this becomes a workable and affective system that can deal with suspected pirates. And by locking up the guilty, it will hopefully provide the most effective message to the pirates, that of deterrence. It will also provide credibility to the international naval presence, of a useful end product, and indeed to the credibility of the whole shipping industry. So there is more at stake than the freedom of a number of pirate gangs. Let us all hope that Masters and crew members who have witnessed these crimes feel able to come forward and do their bit to take positive action against the pirates who terrorise the sea-lanes. The whole industry needs their public spirited witness!