If a single fact can explain why an armada of high tech naval ships from around the world has failed to control, much less to eradicate, gangs of Somali pirates operating from hijacked fishing trawlers and open boats, this is it. Strategy Page reports that for every one Somali pirate who is prosecuted, more than five are set free. So far, roughly 800 have been captured and prosecuted for piracy off Somalia. More than 4,000 have been captured and released. It is likely thay many of these have been captured and released more than once.
In some cases the ratio has been even higher. According to the British Foreign Affairs Select Committee, nine out of ten piracy suspects detained by the Royal Navy and other maritime forces in the Gulf of Aden or Indian Ocean are released without trial. While the US, France, Germany and Belgium among other countries have put a small number of pirates on trial, none have been prosecuted in the UK. There has been an attempt by Western nations to sub-contract the prosecution of pirates to Kenya, Somaliland, Puntland and the Seychelles. Kenya and Puntland are paid by the US and others for the prosecutions, though it is feared that many of these payments in Kenya go to corrupt officials and not to the court system. Puntland and Somaliland lack adequate prison capacity to house the pirates. About half of all imprisoned pirates are being held in Puntland and Somaliland.
Under international law, captured pirates may be prosecuted by any nation. Nevertheless, many countries lack domestic law which conforms to international law, so local courts in several nations have denied that they have jurisdiction over the pirates. Until the Western nations develop the political will to begin to prosecute these international criminals, we will continue the lose the war on piracy. In the meanwhile, hundreds of sailors continue to be held captive under horrible conditions by Somali pirates, while offshore the mighty world navies play catch and release.