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February 17, 2009

Navy-held pirate suspects may be tried outside Kenya

The 16 suspected pirates captured recently in the Gulf of Aden by American military ships could face separate prosecutions in countries other than Kenya, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters today.

The governments of Kenya and the United States have signed a memorandum of understanding under which Kenya would prosecute pirates interdicted by U.S. forces in the region. But there are other options, Whitman said.

"[Kenya is] not the only place where prosecution could take place," he said. "It's possible that prosecutions could take place in other venues, to include the states that have been associated with the victims of these attacks."

The suspected pirates currently are being held by Task Force 151 -- the anti-piracy group operating in the gulf -- aboard the USNS Lewis and Clark supply ship. Officials have confirmed pending evidence and information about the individuals, eliminating any possibility the suspects were "displaced mariners" and not pirates, Whitman said.

The crew of the guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf captured the first seven suspected pirates Feb. 11 after responding to a distress call from a nearby merchant ship, the Marshall Islands-flagged motor vessel Polaris. The following day, the Vella Gulf apprehended nine more pirates for trying to board the motor vessel Premdivya, an Indian-flagged vessel.

"Piracy is a universal crime under international law, and many states have implemented domestic legislation criminalizing piracy," Whitman explained, noting that the disposition of the alleged pirates' prosecution may be known within the week.


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