US warplanes taking off for Somali bombing mission from the USS Eisenhower near the Horn of Africa. The US and EU are expanding their presence in the region amid hysteria generated by the piracy issue., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Originally published Friday, April 27, 2012 at 1:35 PM
Jury convicts Somali of piracy in yacht hijacking
A federal jury has convicted a Somali man of piracy for his role as a hostage negotiator in the hijacking of an American yacht.
By BROCK VERGAKIS
NORFOLK, Va. — A federal jury has convicted a Somali man of piracy for his role as a hostage negotiator in the hijacking of an American yacht.
Mohammad Saaili Shibin was convicted of piracy, kidnapping and hostage-taking in the 2011 hijacking of the Quest off the coast of Africa. All four Americans on board were shot and killed.
He was also convicted Friday of piracy and several other charges for the hijacking of a German merchant ship in 2010. Prosecutors said he received at least $30,000 for his role as a negotiator in that case.
He faces a mandatory life sentence on the piracy charges. He will be sentenced in August.
Shibin's attorney says he plans to appeal.
A federal jury began deliberations on Friday in the trial of a Somali man accused of being a pirate negotiator involved in an attack on a U.S. yacht in which all four Americans on board were eventually shot and killed.
Mohammad Saaili Shibin faces piracy, kidnapping and hostage-taking charges in connection with the 2011 hijacking of the Quest off the coast of Africa, although he never boarded the sailing vessel.
Prosecutors said Shibin was responsible for researching the American hostages online to decide how large of a ransom to seek and to negotiate their release once they reached Somalia. U.S. authorities consider Shibin the highest-ranking pirate they have ever captured.
The 53-year-old former oil company translator is also charged with piracy in the 2010 hijacking of a German merchant vessel in which crew members were tortured while he negotiated their release. Prosecutors said Shibin earned between $30,000 and $50,000 for his role in securing a $5 million ransom for the Marida Marguerite and its crew.
Nearly two dozen crew members, most of whom were from India, had been held in captivity for about eight months before their release.
Shibin attorney James Broccoletti said Shibin was merely acting as a mediator for the hostages aboard the German ship and that it was a mistake that he accepted payments from pirates for his services.
He saod Shibin shouldn't be convicted of piracy because he never boarded the yacht and didn't commit robbery at sea in either case. That line of defense took a significant blow when U.S. District Judge Robert Doumar sided with prosecutors in defining piracy. When reading instructions to jurors, Doumar said that inciting or facilitating piracy was enough to secure a guilty plea.
The definition of piracy has been in dispute since Shibin's indictment. That's because two other federal judges in the same courthouse have issued different rulings in other piracy cases involving attacks on U.S. Navy ships. Doumar waited to rule on whether to dismiss the piracy charges until he heard all the evidence in the case, ultimately deciding to allow the charges to go to the jury.
At issue is whether piracy is defined solely as robbery at sea. U.S. law refers to piracy only "as defined by the law of nations." Shibin's case is unique from other pirates the U.S. has tried because he wasn't part of the raiding parties that sought out and attacked ships.
The 4th U.S. District Court of Appeals heard arguments on the definition of piracy in September but has not indicated when it might rule.
"Piracy doesn't end when you take the ship," Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph E. DePadilla told jurors Friday. "Piracy finishes when you get the ransom. That's the whole idea behind piracy."
If convicted of piracy in either case, Shibin faces a mandatory life sentence. Of the 14 others charged in the case of the Quest, 11 have been sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to piracy. Three others await trial on murder and other death-penalty eligible charges.
The yacht owners, Jean and Scott Adam of Marina del Rey, Calif., along with friends Bob Riggle and Phyllis Macay of Seattle, were the first U.S. citizens killed in a wave of pirate attacks plaguing the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean despite a regular patrol of international warships.
The plan to ransom the Americans fell apart when a plane spotted pirates onboard the vessel and the U.S. Navy began shadowing the sailboat as it headed toward Somalia.
The pirates onboard the Quest told the Navy that they couldn't negotiate the release of the Americans and gave U.S. authorities Shibin's phone number to contact as the person in charge. Broccoletti told jurors Shibin never agreed to be the hostage negotiator, although he had been offered the job by pirate investors. Shibin told investigators he performed Internet searches about the yacht and the Americans only out of curiosity. Prosecutors noted he had dozens of phone calls with pirate investors during the course of the Quest's captivity.
The Navy said that it would let the pirates keep the yacht but that it would not let them take the Americans to Somalia. After several days of failed negotiations with the pirates onboard the yacht, the USS Sterett started maneuvering to put itself between the pirates and the Somali coast. That resulted in pirates firing a rocket-propelled grenade at the destroyer. Shortly thereafter, shots rang out on the yacht.
Doumar said jury deliberations would end at 5 p.m. each day.
Brock Vergakis can be reached at http://twitter.com/BrockVergakis