Maritime piracy poses a grave threat to global shipping. In the United States, federal law criminalizes piracy as defined by international law, or the law of nations. Recently, in United States v. Dire, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals interpreted the law of nations surrounding piracy. Dire concerned the conviction of five Somali nationals under the piracy statute. The defendants argued that piracy requires a robbery, and since no robbery occurred, their convictions should be overturned. Examining two differing approaches by lower District Courts, the Fourth Circuit concluded that piracy does not require robbery because the law of nations evolves with changing international consensus, rather than maintaining a static definition. This consensus stems from international agreements, such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, whose definition of piracy lacks a robbery element. Therefore, the court upheld the convictions. Dire may potentially change the way U.S. courts apply international law.
Samuel B. Richard,
United States v. Dire: The Somali Pirates and the Fourth Circuit's Choice to Apply an Evolving "Law of Nations" to the Problem,
B.C. Int'l & Comp. L. Rev.
E. Supp. 76