NAIROBI, Kenya — Five Somali pirates are jailed for life by a U.S. court. Sixty-one suspected pirates captured at sea face trial in India.
Suspected pirates captured at sea by international navies used to be routinely set free because no country wanted the hassle and expense of a court case. But as piracy has flourished and turned increasingly violent, an unprecedented 17 countries and states are prosecuting hundreds of suspected pirates in courts around the world.
The increase in arrests and prosecutions shows a growing recognition of the global problem piracy has become, said Alan Cole, the head of the United Nations' antipiracy program.
In recent months, six hostages have been killed — including four Americans on a hijacked yacht — and pirates have begun using explosives and blowtorches to cut crews out of the secure rooms they sometimes retreat to during attacks.
"Piracy is becoming quite a high-risk enterprise," Cole said. "We see pirates in prison in Kenya, the Seychelles and Maldives. They are amazed to come in and see their cousins, brothers and friends in there. They thought they had all made it and gone to open shops in Europe. The recruiters are lying to them."
Seventeen governments have put more than 850 suspected pirates on trial in the past year and a half, Cole said, including five Somali pirates given life sentences in a U.S. court on Monday.
Besides the United States, countries and states prosecuting suspected pirates are Belgium, France, Germany, India, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Netherlands, Oman, Puntland, Seychelles, Somaliland, South Korea, Spain, Tanzania and Yemen. In Somalia's semiautonomous region of Puntland, Cole said, authorities were releasing some low-level criminals to make room for pirates in the overcrowded jail in the port city of Bosasso. The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime was funding 200 beds to help hold the extra prisoners, he said.
But attacks are increasing, not decreasing.
That's partly due to pirates' changing tactics. They are using captured vessels as "motherships" — a mobile base from which to launch small skiffs. The hostages become human shields, preventing warships from intervening, said Cmdr. Paddy O'Kennedy of the European Union Naval Force.
On Sunday night, the Indian navy attacked the fishing boat Vega 5, which had been used as a mothership, in self-defense. Sixty-one suspected pirates were captured and were being taken to Mumbai, India's financial capital, to be prosecuted.
O'Kennedy said that because pirates are using motherships they can launch attacks during the northeastern monsoon, which was prohibitive when using only smaller skiffs.