The last piracy conviction in a United States court was in 1819 ‒ until today. AP reports via NPR that five Somalis, captured after attacking USS Nicholas (FFG 47) on 1 April this year, have been convicted of piracy in United States District Court and face mandatory life sentences. BBC’s report gives the specific charges: “piracy, attacking to plunder a maritime vessel, and assault with a dangerous weapon.”
(Now, I have no desire to do time in prison, by if I had to, it sure would be cool to be able to say “Me? I’m in for attacking to plunder a maritime vessel.” Beats grand larceny in the fourth degree.)
Seriously, though, it’s astounding that piracy on the high seas has reemerged as a problem. We’ve gotten used, in recent years, to hearing about Somali pirates in the news ‒ so used to it, in fact, that I think we’ve lost touch with just how bizarre the situation really is. I mean, the last time this happened, the world’s great powers were the United Kingdom, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Prussia, and the Kingdom of France. Germany and Italy didn’t exist as unified countries yet; Greece was still part of the Ottoman Empire. The Pope still had a real army. Japan was still sealed off from the outside world; Hong Kong wasn’t British yet. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were still alive.
Plus ça change...