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In the Persian Gulf, authorities are concerned about terrorism as well as piracy. Coalition vessels (the Coast Guard cutter Aquidneck, behind Coast Guardsman Zachary Coone) patrol exclusion zones around Iraq's Al Basrah and Khawr Al Amaya terminals, where tankers take on millions of barrels of oil daily. (US Coast Guard)

The Pirate Hunters

As buccanneering is back with a vengeance, stepped-up law enforcement and high-tech tools work to help protect shipping on the high seas

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We moved to a bare room with a barred window. The guards followed us, while others crowded the window outside to stare and listen.

Moktar Mohammed Hussein and Abdi Fadar, clad in sarongs and T-shirts, squatted in front of me but did not make eye contact. They were 17 and 18, respectively. "We're fishermen, and our boats broke down on the ocean," Hussein said. "We sought help from the Indian dhow."

Then why were they carrying assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, I asked them. "Every man in Somalia carries such weapons for protection," Hussein said, turning his dark eyes on me. That much was corroborated later by the BBC's Mombasa-based correspondent, Peter Greste, who often visits Somalia.

But why did they try to escape when they spotted the American warship? "We thought they suspected us of being Al Qaeda. We were frightened, and so we tried to get away," Fadar said.

"We just want to go home," Hussein added softly.

I reminded them that Indian crewmembers had testified that the Somalis had hijacked their ship and beaten them? Hussein shook his head. "They're lying," he said.

Did they even know any Somali pirates? Both shook their heads no, but stared silently at the floor.

At 3 o'clock the next afternoon, all ten defendants crowded into the dock in a small courtroom to face a senior magistrate, Beatrice Jaden, seated high above us on a pedestal in the British manner. The prosecutor, Margaret Mwangi, read out the charge, accusing them of committing "acts of piracy on the high seas," and ran through the evidence, based on statements from the Indian crew aboard the dhow and the U.S. sailors who had rescued them.

The Somalis' lawyer, Hassan Abdi, argued that because no one involved—neither the victims, the accused nor the alleged perpetrators' captors—was Kenyan, Kenya had no right to try this case in its courts.

Mwangi countered that the U.N.'s Convention on the Law of the Sea allows Kenya to prosecute pirates of any nationality under the corresponding section of the Kenyan penal code. Should the Somalis be found guilty, Mwangi went on, they should be sentenced to death to deter piracy.

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