Maritime stakeholders want 15 years minimum jail time for convicted pirates

Thomas Alonsi, Director General of the Ghana Maritime Authority

Ghana’s attempt to align its piracy legislation with provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) took a step forward when stakeholders at a forum, unanimously suggested a minimum of 15 years jail time for persons convicted of piracy.

According to them, this jail time is punitive enough to engender deterrence and also conforms to the UNCLOS. The move forms part of efforts to ensure that the nation establishes a strong adjudication system as the current state of the judiciary is challenged in dealing with arrested pirates on Ghana’s waters.

Recent reports of piracy and other associated maritime crimes within the Gulf of Guinea (GoG) area have marked the region as a dangerous hotspot, necessitating immediate steps to nib the threat in the bud.

Director General of the Ghana Maritime Authority, Thomas K. Alonsi, stressed the severity of the problem and called for an all-hands-on-deck approach to deal with the menace.  He said only recently, a fishing vessel, the Atlantic Princess was attacked by pirates within Ghana’s territorial waters mounting extra pressure on authorities to find a lasting and effective legal solution.

Renowned maritime expert Captain (GN) Dr. Kamal-Deen Ali (Retd.) lifted the lid on the gravity of the issue linking it to how close attacks currently are to Ghana’s territorial waters when the country was hitherto rather played a solid intermediary role to quell piracy on GoG.

“Although the attacks do not start in Ghana, we are very much affected and the incident last week proves this. As a stakeholder of the GoG, Ghana used to assist victims of piracy. The question is, now that the threat has come to our doorsteps, what is our fate; in fact, where do we stand? he queried rhetorically.

He then called for various tools, chiefly among them, legal tools, to combat the menace. “We need modern legislation which is consistent with international laws, an effective judicial system, and a robust criminal prosecution mechanism to prosecute piracy and other maritime-related crimes. This may have to go with extradition, transfer of information, and mutual legal assistance that can help us with information to support our prosecution.”

Assistant maritime consultant and private legal practitioner, Nasir Alpha Mohammed, laid the foundation for the review for the review of the two sections of Act 29. “As we all know Ghana is party to UNCLOS and many of the states that are party to the UNCLOS have started domesticating it as a dualist state and is therefore still required under Article 75 to ratify UNCLOS domestically to make it applicable.”

He said of the primary purpose of the review was to address the procedural challenges under Act 29.

The participants at the forum deliberated on various aspects of the current law that criminalizes piracy and its associated prosecution as well as the proposed amendments. They all agreed that Ghana’s law courts must condemn convicted pirates to a minimum of 15 years if Parliament amends Sections 193 and 194 of the Criminal and Other Offences Act, 1960 (Act 29).

The forum was attended by top officials from United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Ghana Maritime Authority, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ghana Revenue Authority, Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority, the Navy, Marine Police, and Attorney General’s office. Others were Ghana Immigration Service, Regional Maritime University, maritime law experts, and many more.

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