Byline: Associated Press/Brock Vergakis
NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — A U.S. federal judge Aug. 13 ordered a Somali pirate to serve a dozen life sentences in prison for his role in the hijacking of a German merchant vessel and a U.S. yacht owned by a Marina del Rey couple, saying the hostage negotiator was lucky he wasn’t facing the death penalty.
Mohammad Saaili Shibin is considered by U.S. authorities to be the highest-ranking pirate they have ever captured. Shibin had direct ties to those who finance pirate operations from ashore in largely lawless Somalia.
Four Americans aboard the sailboat Quest were shot to death by pirates off the coast of Africa in 2011, and the crew on the other vessel was tortured to get a higher ransom in 2010.
Quest’s owners, Jean and Scott Adam of Marina del Rey, along with friends Bob Riggle and Phyllis Macay of Seattle, were the first U.S. citizens killed in a wave of pirate attacks that have plagued the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean, despite a regular patrol of international warships.
Negotiations with a U.S. Navy ship that was shadowing Quest were under way when a rocket-propelled grenade was fired at it and shots aboard the yacht rang out. By the time Navy SEALs scrambled on board the boat, the Americans had already been shot.
U.S. District Judge Robert Doumar told Shibin he was “very lucky” he wasn’t facing a death sentence, although no death penalty-eligible charges were brought against him.
Prosecutors will seek the death penalty against the three men charged with shooting the Americans. Eleven other men in the case who boarded Quest have already pleaded guilty and been sentenced to life in prison.
Shibin, who speaks several languages including English, declined to make any statements before he was sentenced.
U.S. authorities are hoping the sentence will send a message to pirates to stay away from American-flagged ships.
Shibin was convicted earlier this year of the 15 charges he faced, including piracy, kidnapping and hostage-taking. Of the 12 life sentences, 10 of them will run concurrently while two were ordered to serve consecutively. Shibin was also ordered to pay $5.4 million in restitution.
Shibin’s attorney James Broccoletti said he will appeal the conviction. He said the definition of piracy may ultimately have to be decided by the Supreme Court. At issue is whether piracy can only occur if someone commits robbery at sea or whether a broader definition applies.