Jury convicts Somali of piracy in yacht hijacking

A federal jury convicted a Somali man of piracy on Friday for his role as a hostage negotiator in the hijacking of a U.S. yacht. All four Americans on board were eventually shot to death.

Mohammad Saaili Shibin was also convicted of piracy, kidnapping and hostage-taking for the hijacking of a German merchant ship in 2010. The mostly Indian crew was tortured to get a higher payment. Shibin faces a mandatory life sentence on the piracy charges.

"Today's verdict marks the conviction of the highest-ranking Somali pirate ever brought to the United States," U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride said in a statement. "He was among an elite fraternity of pirate negotiators — the vital link to any successful pirate attack. His skills were essential to obtain a ransom for those who attacked the vessel and the financiers who paid for the attack."

Prosecutors said Shibin received at least $30,000 for his role as a hostage negotiator aboard the Marida Marguerite, which was ransomed for $5 million.

No payment was ever made for the U.S. sailing vessel Quest. Shibin's role in that case was to serve as the negotiator once the Americans were brought back to Somalia. That plan fell through when the U.S. Navy started shadowing the hijacked yacht. After several days, a pirate fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the USS Sterett and the Americans were shot to death.

Shibin attorney James Broccoletti said he plans to appeal the conviction following sentencing in August.


Brock Vergakis can be reached at http://twitter.com/BrockVergakis