In light of two attacks on Virginia-based navy vessels off the coast of East Africa, the 200-year old definition of piracy has been under scrutiny. Now, the U.S. Supreme Court has clarified the definition of piracy, a definition which states that an armed attack on a U.S. vessel can be considered piracy even if no one ever actually boards or robs the ship. The updated definition will give wider latitude to prosecutors in an attempt to curtail the rising incidents of piracy off the coast of Africa.
Violent attacks on ships are certainly nothing new, and cases that have been dismissed over decades in the past will be brought back to court for a trial under the new definition, such as a case dismissing five Somalis from an attack on the USS Ashland. Cases such as this have continually brought attention to the definition of piracy, and some maritime lawyers and legal professionals are disputing today’s updated definition—which some argue should follow the 200 year precedent where stealing a boat constitutes piracy. However, the court believes today that piracy has evolved over time to include more than boat theft, but also various levels of violent conduct at sea.