A federal appeals courted ruled Thursday that five Somali pirates who attacked a U.S. Navy ship definitely need to spend life behind bars, contradicting the decision of a lower court.
The case dates back to 2010, when seven men plotted take over a merchant ship and hold it for ransom. But the execution of their plan turned into an absolute disaster when they mistakenly thought the USS Ashland was a normal cargo vessel, The Associated Press reports.
As soon as the men started firing with AK-47s on the ship, sailors immediately shot back at the small skiff, immediately killing a pirate and causing the vessel to explode. The rest of the vessel-less men were rescued by Navy sailors.
One of the men decided to cooperate with federal prosecutors, but five did not, and so were subsequently convicted. The U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson handed down sentences ranging anywhere from 30 to 42.5 years for the crime of piracy. Three judges from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Jackson’s decision, telling him to impose life sentences on the five men as required by federal law.
“It is of no moment that no one aboard the USS Ashland was harmed before the defendants’ attack was thwarted,” Judge Robert King, one of the three judges on the panel, wrote. “The mandatory life sentence reflects a rational legislative judgment that piracy in international waters “is a crime deserving of one of the harshest of penalties.””
Before 1909, the penalty in the United States for piracy was death.
The case is not yet finished. Defendants could appeal to the full appeals court or to the Supreme Court. The pirates’ attorney, Geremy C. Kamens, has not yet come to a decision.
Piracy in the Gulf of Aden is viewed as a major threat to international shipping routes, but piracy has dropped dramatically in the last several years. In 2011, 237 incidents were reported near Somalia. Just a year later, the number decreased to 75, and then in 2013, to 14.
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