WASHINGTON An accused pirate from Somalia pleaded guilty on Friday in federal court in Virginia to criminal charges over an April attack on a U.S. Navy ship off the coast of Africa, according to the court and the U.S. Justice Department.
The defendant, Jama Idle Ibrahim, pleaded guilty as part of a deal with U.S. prosecutors at a hearing in federal court in Norfolk, Virginia, where the criminal charges over the attack had been pending.
He was one of six defendants brought to the United States and charged with the April 10 attack on the USS Ashland, a warship that supports amphibious operations, in the Gulf of Aden.
U.S. prosecutors accused the six men aboard a small skiff of opening fire on the vessel with small arms from their boat. The U.S. vessel returned fire, sunk the skiff, killed one person and captured the others.
In addition, Ibrahim was charged on Friday with conspiracy to commit piracy and to use a firearm during a crime of violence during an alleged act of piracy in the Gulf of Aden against a merchant vessel, the M/V CEC Future, the Justice Department said.
In Norfolk, a federal judge earlier this month threw out the piracy charges, but the six men still faced other criminal charges. Ibrahim pleaded guilty to attacking to plunder a vessel, acts of violence against persons on a vessel, and use of a firearm during a crime of violence.
The six and a group of five other Somalis captured after allegedly firing on another U.S. warship were brought to Norfolk in April to face charges in U.S. criminal court over the attacks on the two vessels.
U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson set sentencing in the case for November 29. Both the prosecution and defense agreed a 30-year prison sentence would be appropriate, the Justice Department said.
"Today marks the first conviction in Norfolk for acts of piracy in more than 150 years," said U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride. "Modern-day pirates must be held accountable and will face severe consequences."
Pirates operating off the coast of Somalia have hijacked vessels in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden for years, making millions of dollars in ransoms by seizing ships, including oil tankers, despite the presence of dozens of foreign naval vessels.
(Reporting by James Vicini and Jeremy Pelofsky; Editing by Jerry Norton)