Somali pirates sentenced to life in U.S. prison

WASHINGTON Mon Mar 14, 2011 4:48pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Five Somali men were sentenced on Monday to spend the rest of their lives in a U.S. prison after being convicted of piracy and trying to attack an American warship off the coast of Africa last year.

In November the group was convicted by a jury in a federal court in Virginia on charges of piracy, attacking to plunder a vessel and various other firearms and weapons charges.

Piracy off the coast of Somalia has been a growing problem over the last several years, with pirate gangs making tens of millions of dollars in ransoms, but also prompting increased patrols by the U.S. and other government navies.

"Today's sentences should send a clear message to those who attempt to engage in piracy: Armed attacks on U.S.-flagged vessels carry severe consequences in U.S. courts," said Neil MacBride, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

The five men sentenced on Monday were captured after the April 1 attack in which a Navy frigate, the USS Nicholas, exchanged fire with a suspected pirate vessel in the Indian Ocean west of the Seychelles, sinking a skiff and confiscating its mother ship.

The sentencing comes days after a federal grand jury in Virginia indicted 13 Somalis and one Yemeni for seizing a yacht with two American couples aboard. The couples were later killed off the coast of Somalia.

(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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