At least five pirate suspects will be brought to Norfolk, Va., by the end of the week to stand trial in the United States, a federal law enforcement official said Wednesday.
The suspects will be tried in the U.S. court system because the African nation of Kenya began refusing to take piracy suspects earlier this month. The Kenyans say the trials of alleged pirates from the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean were straining its courts.
"This is where all countries have to step up just as we are doing and take responsibility for pirates who have attacked their ships and prosecute them to the fullest extent of national law," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters.
The number of alleged pirates to be brought to the United States for prosecution will be fewer than the 21 who were captured in recent incidents and held on U.S. naval ships off the coast of Somalia, said the federal law enforcement official. The official spoke on condition of anonymity while the transfer is still under way.
Five alleged pirates en route to the U.S. were captured March 31, after the frigate USS Nicholas exchanged fire with a suspected pirate vessel. Six others were captured after they allegedly began shooting at the amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland. As many as 10 other suspected pirates were captured when the destroyer USS McFaul responded to the distress call from a merchant vessel.
"Our focus right now, to the extent that we have possession of pirates that have attacked U.S. vessels, we have the ability to try those citizens in this country," said Crowley. "I would not deny that we have plans to bring pirates who are responsible for attacks against our vessels back to the United States."
Crowley said many countries are represented in a task force that has been patrolling off the coast of Somalia and the Horn of Africa.
One piracy suspect has already gone to court, in New York City, in connection with the attack against an American cargo ship early last year. Abdulwali Muse is awaiting trial on a 10-count indictment on charges involving the hijacking of the Maersk Alabama, kidnapping of the ship's captain Richard Phillips and two other ship hijackings.