Canada, looking to make a shift from current policy, is in negotiations to have Kenyan authorities prosecute pirates apprehended by the Canadian navy, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Thursday.


HMCS Winnipeg has disrupted numerous pirate attacks on vessels off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden. ((CBC))

The Canadian government has maintained it cannot prosecute pirates captured by Canadian forces, as it lacks jurisdiction under international law.

Pirates intercepted by Canadian forces off the coast of Somalia until now have been disarmed and then released, a policy that has sparked criticism from legal experts.

But MacKay, speaking aboard HMCS Winnipeg off the coast of Oman, stressed the importance of countering piracy.

"Let's be clear — this is financial terrorism," MacKay told CBC News on Thursday.

"This is not unlike acts of terrorism that we see in other parts of the world, whether it be kidnappings, whether it be issues related to fanaticism and extremism in places like Afghanistan," he said after presenting medals to navy personnel.

Diplomats are now working with the Kenyan government in Nairobi to have the new agreement put into action quickly, said the CBC's David Common, reporting from the warship.

Kenya has similar agreements with other countries.

HMCS Winnipeg, on two separate occasions this month, has apprehended pirates, but released them on both occasions.

Canada committed to UN anti-piracy resolution

Legal experts have questioned this practice, saying it contradicts Canada's commitment to UN Security Council Resolution 1816, which calls on "all states with relevant jurisdiction under international law and national legislation, to co-operate … in the investigation and prosecution of persons responsible for acts of piracy and armed robbery off the coast of Somalia."


Cmdr. Craig Baines, skipper of HMCS Winnipeg, is shown in this undated photo. The warship is heading to the Gulf of Aden. ((Canadian Forces))

Canada co-sponsored the resolution.

Among Western countries, only the Netherlands follows Canada's so-called "catch and release" policy.

Other countries, like the United States, Britain and France, have taken a harder line against piracy. France and the U.S. have killed pirates in bids to retake hijacked ships.

The United States has pressed charges in domestic courts against one of the pirates responsible for hijacking a U.S. ship, the Maersk Alabama, in April.

In 2008, pirates hijacked 49 vessels, fired upon another 46 and took 889 crew members hostage. Thirty-two crew members were reported killed or missing. The average ransom demand was in the area of $2 million.

Most of this activity occurred in the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Somalia and to the north in the vital Gulf of Aden, the gateway for supertankers transporting the bulk of the world's oil supplies from Saudi Arabia. HMCS Winnipeg is now heading for the pirate-plagued Gulf of Aden.

With files from David Common