Pirates in Suffolk jail sentenced

Published 10:20 pm Monday, March 14, 2011

The exterior of the Western Tidewater Regional Jail, where 10 accused Somali pirates have been held for nearly a year. Five were sentenced Monday to life followed by 80 years.

Five Somali pirates being held in Western Tidewater Regional Jail were sentenced to life plus 80 years for engaging in piracy and related offenses during their April 2010 attack on the USS Nicholas.

It marked the longest sentence ever given a pirate in an American court and the first time in more than 190 years that an American jury has convicted a defendant of piracy.

“Today’s sentences should send a clear message to those who attempt to engage in piracy,” said U.S. Attorney Neil H. MacBride. “Armed attacks on U.S.-flagged vessels carry severe consequences in U.S. Courts.”

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The five men — Mohammed Modin Hasan, Gabul Abdullahi Ali, Abdi Wali Dire, Abdi Mohammed Gurewardher and Abdi Mohammed Umar — were convicted Nov. 24, 2010, of a litany of charges including piracy, attack to plunder a vessel, act of violence against persons on a vessel and multiple firearms charges.

According to evidence and trial testimony, the men left Somalia in search of a merchant ship to pirate. They used a larger ship full of supplies, along with two smaller vessels loaded with assault weapons and a rocket-propelled grenade.

On April 1, Hasan, Ali and Dire boarded one of the smaller vessels and set out to pirate what they believed to be a merchant ship, while the other two remained on board the large ship. The three then opened fire on the USS Nicholas, an Oliver Hazard Perry class frigate homeported in Norfolk.

“Modern-day pirates not only threaten human lives but also disrupt international commerce by extorting hundreds of millions of dollars in ransom payments,” MacBride said in a press release.

It is believed that between 650 and 800 people are held hostage by Somali pirates, and the global cost of the phenomenon ranks as high as $12 billion annually.

The pirates have been held in Western Tidewater Regional Jail during their trial. A spokesperson from the jail did not return calls to explain what would become of the men now that they’ve been sentenced.

Five others accused of piracy in a separate incident are also being held at the regional jail while they await their trials.