Russians Let Go of Pirates; Blame Flaws in International Law

by Julian Ku

Last week, Russia announced with some fanfare that it had captured several Somali pirates who had attacked a Russian-flagged vessel.  It had also announced that (like the U.S.), these pirates would be brought back to Russia for trial.  And then yesterday, Russia announced…that it had let those same pirates go.

MOSCOW (AP) — The pirates seized by a Russian warship off the coast of Somalia have been released because of “imperfections” in international law, the Defense Ministry said Friday, a claim that sparked skepticism — and even suspicion the pirates might have been killed.

Authorities initially said the pirates would be brought to Russia to face criminal charges for hijacking a Russian oil tanker. But Defense Ministry spokesman Col. Alexei Kuznetsov told The Associated Press on Friday that the pirates had been released.

I am the first to admit there are legal hassles in prosecuting pirates, but I am baffled as to what legal flaws would have required Russia to release these alleged pirates.  Russia plainly has the power to punish here. I can only come up with nefarious theories: (1) they killed the pirates already; (2) they mistreated them in some serious way.  Something just doesn’t smell right here.

2 Responses

  1. Nothing fishy here. Russia, like many other states who have signed and ratified UNCLOS, has not implemented Article 105 which allows some sort of universal jurisdiction over pirates. Moreover since Russia was not the flag state of the ship and, as far as I know, there wasn’t any russian citizens in the crew, I’m not sure Russia had any way of prosecuting those guys.

    There are legal flaws but most of them are related to the lack of implementation of UNCLOS in domestic laws, and the blame lies on the states themselves, not on international law per se. Nevertheless, it will require quite some time before the modification of those domestic laws, and a lot of pirates will be set free (and not only by Russia. EU, US and many others have been releasing pirates in the recent weeks).

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