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German Warship Stops Somalia Pirate Attack, But Germans Release Pirates

CNN is reporting:

German sailors foiled an attempt by pirates to hijack an Egyptian cargo ship off the coast of Yemen, the German Defense Ministry said.
The German navy frigate Karlsruhe responded to an emergency call from the Wabi Al Arab Thursday morning, sending helicopters to the stricken vessel. When the helicopters arrived, the pirates broke off the attack, the ministry said.

A crew member on the Wabi Al Arab was wounded when the pirates attempted to board the vessel. He was flown by helicopter for treatment aboard the Karlsruhe, the ministry said.

The German sailors captured the pirates and disarmed them, destroying the weapons, the ministry said.

The German government in Berlin later ordered the Somali pirates released because they were not caught while harassing German interests, according to BBC.

OK– there is good news and bad news here. It is good that the Germans were able to foil the attack. But it is bad that they released the pirates. Under international law, piracy is a well-established crime of universal jurisdiction. All states have the right to arrest pirates on the high seas, and all states have the right to prosecute pirates in their domestic courts. There is no requirement under international law that pirates can only be prosecuted if they were caughts while acting against the interests if the arresting state. The only plausible reason that Berlin would not have been able to prosecute the pirates is if there were some provision of the German criminal code that required such nexus. If that is the case, it might make sense for German to change its code.

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.