News Blogmaritime piracy

The anti-piracy operation in Somalia, a legal challenge?

(BRUSSELS2) The operation that the European Union will launch against pirates off the coast of Somalia will not be a simple military action. It has an important public order component, which is similar to an international police operation. The question of the criminal law applicable to pirates, their possible prosecution before a court, and the procedures to be applied must, in fact, be precisely defined. How can we bring to justice a pirate of another nationality (or worse who refuses to decline his nationality) and who has no link with the State which apprehended him (no act against a national boat or a national) ?

When the soldier stops, the policeman starts

When a pirate ship is pursued, seized, and its perpetrators apprehended, the military action is over. But police or legal action has only just begun. And that’s not the easiest part! The expeditious solution of yesteryear of hanging “high and short” or going “board” towards deep water and sharks is no longer applicable today. And if international law exists – the Montego Bay Convention and the 1998 Rome Convention on the Suppression of Unlawful Acts – it does not allow everything. And not all the national laws of the Member States of the European Union provide for the ability to judge pirates – who have no direct link with the State. According to a maritime expert, there are only two countries in Europe which have provided in their domestic law the possibility of trying pirates.

See a short analysis of the Montego bay convention and French criminal law.

Example of this “legal void”

A few weeks ago, a Danish warship which had apprehended pirates had to resolve to free them – release them on a beach – because there was no legal provision to bring them to justice! As for the weapons seized, they (fortunately) fell “inadvertently” overboard.

The “Legad” on board ships

"Intense work has therefore begun at the legal level", specifies a European diplomat. This is one of the "particularly important challenges such as never before in an ESDP operation", adds another. From an operational point of view, “the legal structure will be particularly strengthened, both on board the ships and in the headquarters, with the Legad (legal advisers such as Legal Adviser)” trained in these issues. It is also not excluded that officers with judicial police powers can take on board, to avoid what happened a few days ago.

At the level of the European Union, harmonization of the applicable law could therefore be necessary. This requires action in terms of criminal cooperation, known as the “third pillar”. We think about it…

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

Comments closed.