Piracy on the high seas is one of the oldest crimes on the books. NPR reports that U.S. authorities are using 18th century law in new ways to go after people who may never actually climb on board a ship and the men who negotiate and finance the plots. About 1,000 pirates are in custody around the world; about 30 of them are incarcerated in the United States. “When the Obama administration took office, the problem of piracy off the coast of Somalia was spiraling out of control,” says Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary of state.
American diplomats have been working with their counterparts to bring accused pirates to justice. They’re aiming higher than the grunts who try to hijack merchant ships off the Somali coast. “We’re also using all the tools of our disposal in order to disrupt pirate networks and their financial flows,” Shapiro says. Those networks include ransom negotiators. In two cases, cellphone traces and other steps led U.S. investigators to Somali men who had the English language skills to serve as go-betweens.