Accused Somali Pirate Negotiator Begins Federal Trial in U.S.

Published Apr 20, 2012 1:58 PM by The Maritime Executive

A Somali man accused of piracy has went to federal trial this week. His attorney is fighting claims that he negotiated the release of four Americans killed aboard a sailing yacht, and insists that he was merely acting as a mediator aboard a hijacked German vessel where hostages were tortured by pirates.

According to Bloomberg, Mohammad Saaili Shibin faces piracy, hostage-taking and several other federal charges for his alleged role in the hijacking of a German merchant ship in 2010 as well as that of an American yacht off Africa in 2011.

Shibin is believed to be associated with a highly-ranked pirate group who are connected to wealthy businessmen. He is the alleged negotiator for the pirates once the ship has actually been hijacked and is in Somali waters. He is also responsible for researching the captured ships and hostages online to determine the size of a ransom to seek and find contact information for a ship's owner and hostages' relatives. Prosecutors think Shibin is considered the most upper echelon pirate the U.S. has captured and brought to trial.

The infamous negotiator was able to lock in a $5 million ransom for the German ship Marida Marguerite and its 22 crewmen. He is also said to be the person identified by other suspected pirates as being responsible for negotiating the release of the Americans onboard the sailing vessel Quest – in which 11 men are already serving a life prison sentence after the four hostages were killed.

In his defense pleas, Shibin’s lawyer noted that in the Quest claim, Shibin never actually left Somalia, which is noteworthy because unless he committed robbery at sea, he can't be convicted of piracy. Prosecutors contend piracy as defined by `the law of nations' involves a broader definition, says Businessweek.

The trial is expected to last several weeks. If convicted of piracy involving either ship, Shibin faces a mandatory life sentence.