3-day simulated trial on oil tanker attack helps reinforce maritime legislation in Ghana to combat piracy


ACCRA  The detailed piracy scenario of the 3-day simulated trial was carefully designed to reflect a real-life situation, pitting defense and prosecutors against each other. The fictitious attack, set in the Gulf of Guinea, went something like this:

The Silver Star, an oil carrying 4200 tons of diesel fuel loaded in Lagos, Nigeria, and with 16 crew members and 2 security officers aboard, was attacked in international waters in the Gulf of Guinea by two speedboats. The vessel was heading to Dakar, Senegal to offload its cargo when security officers heard volleys of gunshots being fired from the speedboats and, with the aid of night-vision goggles, saw speedboats drawing alongside than tanker and, using two aluminium ladders with makeshift hooks, succeeded in boarding the vessel.  As the intruders made their way across the ship, four of the intruders, armed with AK-47s, forced their way onto the bridge and told the master that the ship is now under their control. They gave the master a new course to follow, telling him that he and his crew will be killed if they failed to obey instructions…

Ghanaian prosecutors played the prosecution and defense roles in front of a Ghanaian judge proceeding in examination-in-chief, cross-examination of witnesses, and defence cases.  The role of witnesses and defendants were played by Ghanaian maritime law enforcement officials trained by INTERPOL.

The three-day simulated trial of a maritime piracy case in Ghana was held to boost current on-going legal reform to revise the definition of piracy provided for in Section 193 of the Criminal Offences Act, in line with the piracy definition provided by Article 101 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The intense pace of the exchanges allowed all participants to familiarise themselves with the universal definition of piracy and its elements of crime and were able to identify any potential gaps in existing legislation in Ghana.

Ghana has established its universal jurisdiction in cases of piracy, however, there are challenges in applying this jurisdiction as per the current definition of piracy provided in the Criminal Offences Act. Therefore, during the simulated trial, participants assumed that the definition of piracy is now in conformity with Article 101 of the UNCLOS.


The judge in the case, His Lordship Justice Richard Adjei-Frimpong said that the legal interpretation of current article 193 of the Criminal Offences Act makes it difficult to convict the perpetrators of acts of piracy.

“The simulated trial made it clear that having right the definition as per Article 101 of the UNCLOS is important. This also brings uniformity and consistency of piracy definition with other countries. Ghana’s legal reform should go further by looking into criminal procedure code, defining mode of trial rather than a jury trial, having specialised maritime court, and revising sentencing regime for foreigners to capture post-judgment matters,” he said.

The simulated trial also revealed that given the particularities of the law of the sea, it is important for maritime criminal justice practitioners to have special expertise on the characteristics of the vessel.

Part of the trial was also conducted online, to practice introducing new technology in the judicial environment, and to strengthen the administration of justice by facilitating virtual hearing of criminal cases.  This also helps in cases involving witnesses and experts in different countries.

The trial was organized by the Global Maritime Crime Programme of UNODC in collaboration with INTERPOL within the framework of the United States Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL).

This effort forms part of UNODC GMCP’s criminal justice reform work in Ghana and more broadly, seeks to draw attention to the inherent gaps in the existing legal framework inhibiting the prosecution of piracy cases in Ghana.

The UNODC and INTERPOL cooperation in building up simulated trials is a successful joint initiative, conducted already in Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ivory Coast, and Ghana, thanks to US INL support.

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