Eleven suspected Somali pirates have been indicted in the United States in connection with recent attacks on two U.S. Navy ships off the coast of Africa.
The 11 men were brought to a courthouse in the state of Virginia Friday to face piracy charges after being detained on U.S. ships as the cases against them were being prepared.
A first group of five suspected pirates was indicted in connection with what authorities say was a firefight March 31st between the USS Nicholas and their vessel in the Indian Ocean.
Six other defendants were charged with an alleged April 10th attack on the USS Ashland in the Gulf of Aden near Djibouti.
If convicted, the men face life in prison.
Until recently, pirates detained in international operations off the African coast were generally tried in Kenya. But Kenyan authorities recently indicated they needed more international financial help to do this as Kenyan courts were becoming overloaded with piracy cases.
A State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Friday the U.S. government is looking at several ways to face the challenge posed by all the piracy cases, and that Kenya has previously been very receptive to prosecutions.
Piracy off Africa's eastern coast has continued to be rampant in recent months despite a large-scale international security effort.
Last week, Admiral Mark Fitzgerald, the commander of US Naval Forces in Europe and Africa, outlined some of the steps beyond the judicial process and the patrols that are needed. "You have to go after their money. You have to go after their logistics supplies, their middlemen, those kinds of things, and I think it is going to have to rely on greater and better intelligence capabilities," he said.
U.S. Naval authorities say pirates are using bigger and bigger ships, with more and more weapons, and that their area of operation is extending from Mozambique to India. Successful pirates are often paid ransom to release cargo and hostages on the busy waterways.
Former pirates have recently been quoted as saying men who go out on the pirate vessels actually make very little money, and that organized syndicates based in Dubai and other Gulf States launder most of the ransom money that is made.