A federal jury in Norfolk, Va., found five Somali nationals guilty of piracy and other charges on Wednesday in what is believed to be the first conviction of pirates in a US court in more than a century.
The five men were convicted of attacking a US Navy warship off the coast of Somalia in the early morning hours of April 1.
The men believed the ship on the dark horizon was a merchant vessel they could seize and hold for ransom, according to federal prosecutors. After spotting the lights of the ship, three of the men – Mohammed Modin Hasan, Gabul Abdullahi Ali, and Abdi Wali Dire – took chase in a skiff, according to court documents. They were armed with two AK-47 assault rifles and a rocket-propelled grenade.
When the skiff pulled aside the dark ship, they opened fire. Much to their surprise, the dark ship shot back – a lot.
The Somalis quickly discovered that they had attacked the USS Nicholas, a US Navy frigate on patrol off Somalia to deter pirate attacks on merchant shipping. The three men threw their weapons in the sea and attempted to outrun the frigate.
Once the three were captured, the crew of the Nicholas located two other Somalis on a mother ship that had launched the attack. The two others Somalis are Abdi Mohammed Gurewardher and Abdi Mohammed Umar.
Once on board the Nicholas, the men were questioned and, according to prosecutors, admitted their part in planned acts of piracy.
At trial, lawyers for the Somalis argued that their clients were fisherman who had been forced by real pirates to participate in attacks against shipping.
The jury rejected the defense. All five men face mandatory life prison terms. Sentencing was set by US District Judge Mark Davis for March 14.