Today, Abukar Osman Beyle and Shani Nurani Shiekh Abrar were convicted of murder, kidnapping, hostage-taking, and piracy by a US court in Norfolk, Virginia. Both men were given 21 consecutive life sentences for their part in the taking of the yacht Quest and the four Americans aboard in February 2011. During the seizure, a distress signal was sent out, to which the US Navy responded. Negotiations to secure the release of the hostages were conducted for four days before an altercation with US forces and reported gunfire aboard the Quest led to a rescue attempt. By the time US Navy personnel boarded the vessel, the Americans had been fatally wounded. Four Somalis were also killed during the operation and the rest were taken into custody. Prior to today’s verdict, eleven other individuals had already been sentenced for their involvement in the seizure of the Quest.
Piracy off the coast of Somalia in the Gulf of Aden and the surrounding environs has been a significant threat and is now a relatively well known security issue in the United States. The events surrounding the seizure of the MV Maersk Alabama in 2009, which saw the captain of the ship released after a rescue operation conduct by US Navy SEALs, were even recently turned into a dramatic movie.
Recent reports suggest that subsequent efforts by the US, NATO members, and other nations have, however, led to a significant decline in piracy in the region. NATO began active patrolling of the region in 2008, as part of Operation Allied Protector, which was followed by Operation Ocean Shield in 2009. In 2009, the US also began conducting surveillance operations involving manned and unmanned aircraft operating from the Seychelles, as part of Operations Ocean Look and Trident Reach.