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Decision Pending on Status of Suspected Somali Pirates

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 13, 2009 – The 16 suspected pirates captured by American ships yesterday and Feb. 11 have been transferred to the USNS Lewis and Clark, defense officials said today.

The suspects -- all believed to be Somali -- are being treated properly and humanely, Defense Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said during a Pentagon news conference.

The suspects will “remain aboard that ship until information and evidence is assembled and evaluated and a decision is ultimately made regarding their future transfer,” Morrell said.

Servicemembers in Task Force 151 -- the anti-piracy group operating in the Gulf of Aden -- will compile the evidence in each case and determine if there is ample evidence to recommend prosecution.

“If there isn't, we will likely repatriate these individuals -- of course, minus the weapons that they were apprehended with,” Morrell said.

The United States has a memorandum of understanding with Kenya on the piracy issue. Under the agreement, any pirates captured would be brought to justice in Kenya. Prosecuting these men will show there is a price to criminal behavior on the high seas, Defense Department officials said.

“The commander of the task force is ultimately responsible for determining whether or not these individuals will be taken to Kenya for adjudication or whether they -- some of them or all of them -- can be released,” Morrell said.

The U.S. decision is being made even as a Russian cruiser seized 10 suspected pirates in the Gulf of Aden. The Russian cruiser is part of a multinational effort to stop piracy in the region. The ships operate under a United Nations Security Council resolution.

“Overall, this speaks to the fact that the task force is aggressively patrolling this body of water as, frankly, are many other nations that are not a part of this task force, all in response to an international cry to do more to protect cargo and other material and individuals being shipped through there,” Morrell said.

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