In March 2018, the ruler of Dubai phoned the prime minister of India, and between them they mobilized the militaries of their respective countries to coordinate an attack on a private, US-registered yacht sailing in international waters and to abduct all onboard. The target was the Nostromo, captained by American citizen Herve Jaubert, and the objective was to capture the daughter of Sheikh Mohammed, Latifa Al Maktoum, who had escaped the UAE where she alleged she had been subjected to torture and abuse for decades. This action, carried out in violation of international law, maritime law, and in breach of both the UAE’s and India’s obligations as allies of the United States, constitutes a major crime which has not only gone unpunished, but which has been all but overshadowed by the story of Princess Latifa’s escape and speculation about her fate.
What happened on March 4, 2018, and in the succeeding weeks during which the entire crew of Nostromo were detained and threatened in the UAE, is a far more important issue than the drama over Latifa herself. Radha Stirling, founder and CEO of Detained in Dubai, whom both Latifa and Herve Jaubert contacted once the yacht departed the UAE, and who was the last person with whom they communicated before their capture; cautions that the US and the international community at large must not let the Nostromo raid be ignored while global attention focuses exclusively on what became of Princess Latifa. “We were responsible for bringing Latifa’s story to the international media and initiating a United Nations inquiry into the events surrounding her escape and capture,” Stirling explained, “But, while we have been enormously concerned about her safety and wellbeing, ultimately, the most alarming aspect of this story is the illegal act of piracy committed by the UAE and India against an American civilian vessel in international waters and the abduction and unlawful detention of 5 foreign nationals by the government of Dubai.”
After more than a year without information of Latifa’s status, photographs recently emerged on social media of the princess enjoying a meal with friends at a mall in Dubai, presumably published to confirm that she is alive and safe in the UAE and getting on with her life. “If Princess Latifa is well and carrying on, we are happy for her. This hardly settles the larger issue, however,” Stirling said, “It is not ‘all’s well that ends well’ simply because a Dubai royal is now free to socialise with her friends after the lives of 5 American, Filipino, and European citizens were irreversibly upturned by the despotic actions of the UAE. Herve Jaubert and his crew were beaten, held at gunpoint, abducted, and told they would be killed, dismembered, and scattered in the desert. The Nostromo was looted, and Jaubert, who risked his life to help Latifa, has been slandered as a kidnapper. Lives have been ruined. International law has been broken; two US allies collaborated in a reckless act of military aggression against an American private vessel outside their jurisdiction; and no one has been held accountable.”
Stirling warned at the time that if the UAE’s belligerence went unchecked, it would likely increase, and become an example to others in the region. Indeed, seven months after the Nostromo was attacked with impunity, dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated in the Saudi Arabian embassy in Turkey. “I don’t think anyone can doubt that Saudi Arabia was emboldened by the fact that the UAE suffered no consequences for their criminal actions the previous March,” Stirling commented, “The UAE was also complicit in the killing of Khashoggi. Increasingly, security services, intelligence agencies, and the militaries of countries in the region are being used as the personal enforcers of the rulers, and we are seeing a kind of authoritarian nexus developing whereby antidemocratic strongmen are cooperating outside the boundaries of international law and diplomatic norms to essentially create a shadow jurisdiction that operates according to their whims. Sometimes they abuse legitimate institutions like Interpol to persecute their enemies, and sometimes they manufacture legitimacy for their personal vendettas by dictating verdicts in the courts they control; and sometimes they simply act with blatant criminality because they have learned they will not be called to account.”
The recent hijacking by Belarus of a RyanAir flight to Lithuania to capture activist Roman Protasevich upon the personal orders of President Alexander Lukashenko, Stirling said, is further evidence that authoritarian states have grown bolder since the UAE’s raid on Nostromo. “Lukashenko has been pursuing closer relations with the UAE in recent years,” She explained, “Including intelligence-sharing, military cooperation, and increased private Emirati investment in Belarus. This is a case of like minds finding common cause with one another, bolstering each other’s sense of entitled despotism. When the UAE attacked Nostromo, and more importantly, got away with it, Belarus knew this was a government they could partner with and learn from; and frankly, this is eroding the authority of international law. All of this can be traced back to the events of March 2018. America and Europe cannot afford to ignore this trend; renegade state actors must be reprimanded decisively and quickly when they defy the global order and use state institutions and military assets to settle the personal grudges of their rulers. Regardless of the outcome of Princess Latifa’s story, there has not been closure for the victims of the Nostromo attack, and the longer this issue goes unaddressed, the more unsafe the world will be.”