Five Somali men, convicted of attacking a US Navy ship, have been sentenced to life in prison by a Virginia court.More here:
Tuesday’s sentencing is the harshest yet for accused pirates as the US tries to halt piracy off Africa's coast.
The federal prosecution relied upon rarely-used 19th century maritime laws, and was the first piracy case to go to trial since the Civil War, when a New York jury deadlocked on charges against 13 Southern privateers.
The five Somali men were convicted on federal piracy charges on November 24 last year.
Prosecutors argued during trial that the five had confessed to attacking the USS Nicholas on April 1 after mistaking it for a merchant ship.
Defence lawyers had argued the men were innocent fishermen who had been abducted by pirates and forced to fire their weapons at the ship.
However, John S Davis, an assistant US attorney, had argued that three of the men were in a skiff that opened fire on the Nicholas with assault rifles, then fled when sailors returned fire with machine guns.
Davis said all the men later confessed to the attack in remarks to an interpreter on board the ship. He said they expected to make anywhere from $10,000 to $40,000 from the ransom, a comparatively small sum.
Report of capture of pirates here. Report of original conviction here.
The sea brigands in March last attacked 'USS Nicholas' patrolling the east coast of Africa as part of an anti-piracy mission. But the warship's crew returned fire and captured the pirates after chasing down their vessel.
Somali pirates in action (not from the Nicholas case)
Presiding judge Mark Davis also sentenced them to an additional 80 years in prison for firearms charges in connection with the hijack attempt. The trial held at Norfolk, home port to USS Nicholas and one of the largest naval bases in the world, also witnessed the first-ever conviction by a U.S. jury in a piracy case since 1820.
Defense lawyers said they planned to appeal the conviction as well as the sentencing.
Attorney Neil MacBride told reporters that the sentence pronounced by the trial court was the longest ever in a piracy case. The buccaneer convicted in 1820 was executed. MacBride added that the punishment meted out to the five should serve as a deterrent to others embarking on the career beyond the law.
In November, the trial court had found the defendants guilty of the charges. However, the defense has maintained that the men had been abducted by Somali pirates who forced them to fire from their weapons.