Pirates are holding a U.S. captain hostage at sea. The Navy is watching everything that happens. So where does the law get involved in protecting merchant vessels and stopping piracy?
Charles Swift, former Naval Defense Attorney, spoke with T.J. Holmes on CNN’s American Morning Thursday.
T.J. Holmes: Just who is policing these waters?
Charles Swift: Under the U.N. Law of the Sea Convention, all navies, all navies of the world share a joint responsibility for policing international waters and that’s where these things are taking place, in international waters.
Holmes: We've seen so many of these cases where the company seems be to be in charge, the private company that owns these ships pay the ransoms, seemingly, without any government intervening. Why is that happening?
Swift: What the pirates do is they move the ships from international waters into the internal waters of Somalia and then they negotiate directly with the companies, with the navies being outside that 13 mile nautical range limit around Somalia itself, and the companies pay through intermediaries until they have their ships get back under way because of loss of money.
Holmes: Even if the ship was taken in international waters, once in Somali waters the government and militaries can't pursue them?
Swift: You can engage in hot pursuit but often the navies don't know until the ship is already into internal waters. But, yes, it makes a significant difference. You can think about it as the posse coming up to a county line or some part and having to stop because they no longer have jurisdiction.
Holmes: Let's talk about this particular case with these Americans. Who would be in charge? Does the Navy have the right to intervene if they want to because that ship has an American flag on it?
Swift: It absolutely does. Under international law and U.S. law, because it is a U.S.-flagged carrier, we have the absolute right to intervene and the responsibility, the United States Navy does. While the company might want to negotiate, ultimately, it will be the Navy's call.
Holmes: If the U.S. Military or any other military, any other government did happen to intervene, to arrest some of these pirates, what do you do with them? Where can you take them?
Swift: In the U.S. flagged vessel’s case, the Alabama’s case, it's very clear. They can be tried in U.S. Courts for piracy both under international law and U.S. statute. The more difficult case is what do you do with pirates who aren't attacking a U.S. Vessel. Remember, only one out of the hundreds of attacks has been a U.S. Vessel and that is a very difficult question and something that's been hampering all operations is what do you do, especially if you capture pirates, ideally, before they've started the act of piracy.
Holmes: This is a vast area to try to police, but does more need to be done to clamp down on what’s happening off the coast of Africa?
Swift: Absolutely. This is an unacceptable situation. As Secretary Clinton said, we're going to need help. It is a vast area. Our Navy alone can't patrol it. We're also going to need help with the change in the law. The law certainly provides rules if an act of piracy has occurred, what to do. But as we're seeing, waiting for that moment, until the pirates actually attack, is not working. That's not an effective strategy. We need a strategy allows us to go out, identify pirates, stop those vessels, and try and detain those persons before they've ever had a chance to get on board. Because once the pirates - the act of piracy has occurred, we're generally playing from behind. We need to get on the offense instead of staying on the defense.