This past Tuesday, it was reported that four American hostages aboard a yacht captured by Somali pirates had been shot and killed. Now the BBC reports that the U.S. may try to host a trial for the 15 Somali pirates suspected of involvement. According to the BBC, U.S. courts have convicted at least six Somali pirates in the past year. After being unused for centuries, international piracy laws were dusted off in 2010 to prosecute several accused of involvement in the violent piracy trend off the coast of Somalia in recent years. Pirates have gone to jail, but will their sentences prevent future crimes? And if not, what else can the US do to keep its citizens safe in international waters? Here's a look at what we know.

Previous Trials 

  • In July of 2010, 11 Somali's were convicted of piracy in Seychelles and sentenced to 10 years in prison there.
  • 5 more Somali men were convicted--this time in Virginia--and sentenced to life in November, 2010 for shooting at a US Navy guided-missile frigate.
  • That same month, Germany saw the start of its first piracy trial in 400 years. The court experienced some difficulty prosecuting the accused, unable to prove their identities because of age and birthplace confusion.
  • Just last week, a U.S. district court sentenced one particular Somali pirate to more than 33 years in prison for kidnapping and torturing an American merchant ship captain in 2009.
Does Capturing and Imprisoning Pirates Deter Others?

According to a report in the Christian Science Moniter, few experts have faith that trying piracy suspects will discourage future crimes. With "experts" telling AFP that "they doubt the trials will deter pirates; in fact they might even encourage some. 'Spending three, five, even seven years in a European or American jail followed by political asylum--you can't do much better as a Somali man,' Anja Shortland, who studies piracy at the German Institute for Economic Research, told AFP."

So What Can be Done to Combat These Crimes?

The Editors of the Los Angeles Times make a strong case today for rescuing the failed state of Somalia. They note that in addition to trying pirates, the US and the United Nations have worked together in several military and diplomatic efforts to promote peace in the area--none of which seem to be working. Somalia is currently run by something called the Transitional Federal Government, a UN initiative that "has little public support and is widely viewed by Somalis as an invading foreign force." What the U.S. can do to help clean up the Somalian situation, they argue, is to disengage from the TFG and support whatever government the Somali people chose for themselves, "as long as it renounces international terrorism and agrees not to interfere with humanitarian relief workers. A government with a measure of legitimacy is far likelier to stabilize Somalia than the current puppet regime, even if it's not as secular as we'd like."