If at first you don't succeed in an act of piracy, don't worry, because you won't be held accountable. That, according to a federal judge who has dismissed piracy charges against six Somali nationals who were accused of attacking a Navy ship off the coast of Africa on April 10.
The men were charged with opening fire on the U.S.S. Ashland, a warship that supports amphibious operations. The six men, and a group of five other Somalis captured after allegedly firing on another U.S. warship, were brought to Norfolk, Virginia, where they were charged with the attacks. Commenting on the arrests at the time, U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride explained:
"since the earliest days of this country, piracy has been a serious crime…privacy threatens human lives and disrupts international commerce. When pirates attack U.S. vessels by force, they must face severe consequences."
Following their arrest, all of the men pled not guilty and were awaiting a trial which was expected to begin in September. But during pre-trial proceedings, Judge Jackson dismissed the piracy charges, concluding that the U.S. government had failed to make a reasonable case that the men's actions amounted to piracy.
Explaining his reasoning, U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson stated:
"the court finds that the government has failed to establish that any unauthorized acts of violence or aggression committed on the high seas constitutes piracy as defined by the law of nations."
To be held criminal liable for piracy under the court's ruling, the attack must succeed. Since the Somali pirates in this case were wildly unsuccessful, charges of piracy were improper in the eyes of the court.
The men still face seven other charges related to the attack. If convicted, they could face up to 35 years in prison.