Lloyds List: 28 January – Liz McMahon. The threat of prison is not a deterrent — armed guards are, says US academic.
IF SOMALI pirates continue to be unsuccessful, the infrastructure established to prosecute them will need to be dismantled, according to Northwestern University School of Law professor Eugene Kontorovich.
Last week a Kenyan court handed seven-year sentences to 24 pirates convicted of attempting to hijack the Iranian vessel Ariya in the Gulf of Oman in October 2010.
Prof Kontorovich told Lloyd’s List that prosecutions of this kind are now widespread, more than a dozen nations holding such trials and the latest case becoming at least the 12th completed in Kenya. However, he went on to argue that prosecution of piracy is not an effective deterrent.
“First, sentences are often quite short,” he said. “Second, conditions of confinement are often superior to life in Somalia, as pirates themselves gladly admit. So if anything it is a reverse deterrent.”
The drop in Somali piracy is due to the use of armed guards, not court cases, he said. Piracy continued to surge after trials began and only the use of security forces succeeded in discouraging and preventing attacks.
Another concern regarding piracy prosecution is the massive discrepancies between countries when it comes to sentencing convicted pirates.
Prof Kontorovich is particularly troubled by differences in sentences between countries used by the international community as de facto international pirate courts.
“Sentences in Seychelles are much higher than [in] Kenya,” he said. “All the pirates they try are caught by other countries and transferred to them. So when a Nato or [European Union] country catches pirates, the decision of where to send them for trial has real, substantive implications.”
Prof Kontorovich said that countries that act as pirate courts should, at the very least, agree a standard sentencing framework.
To date, seven years is the average sentence for pirates convicted in Kenya, whereas the average in the Seychelles is 20 years, according to figures from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
Other industry experts have criticised the prosecution process, arguing that it focuses too much on so-called footsoldiers instead of tracking down those based on shore who plan and fund piracy.
Working Group 5 of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia is said to be attempting to address this issue and its review team is meeting this week.
Prof Kontorovich has contributed to important foreign relations cases in the federal courts and historic piracy cases in the US and abroad. He is writing a book, Justice at Sea: Piracy and the Limits of International Criminal Law, to be published by Harvard University Press.