On hearing the word, pirate, or for that matter buccaneer one instantly conjures up that ever so endearing image of a chap in knee-high boots, gold earrings, one leg and an eye patch singing ‘yo-ho ho and a bottle of rum'. But today pirates are back in the news albeit relocated to the Indian Ocean where Somalian seafaring brigands are making headlines filching massive commercial vessels cruisers ships and anything that floats holding both the crew and cargo to ransom. Recently they purloined an oil tanker full to the gills with £67million of crude oil, have so fat netted some $30 million in ransom and are holding some 14 ships and 250 crew members to hostage. No better time then to peruse the history of piracy because, in truth, we all love a bit of the olde swash.
The term, buccaneer, originally described a rather disparate group of individuals mainly drawn from British, Irish, Dutch, Flemish and French stock whose ranks included castaways, escaped convicts, refugees both religious and political, escaped bondsmen, Maroons (African slaves who had escaped the Spanish) and indigenous Carib Indians. Drawn together by their mutual hatred of the Spanish they initially inhabited the forests of Northern Hispaniola and eked a meagre existence by killing and selling the wild cattle and pigs that freely roamed the countryside. Indeed, the name ‘Buccaneer derived from the French ‘boucan’ refers to the wooden frame they employed to cure their meat.
Curiously L’Ollonais ended his days at the hands of native South American Indians who ate him.
Unfortunately, the Spanish, in a reckless fit of pique, decided that the buccaneers rather unkempt presence was irksome - their very existence on the barren lump of rock, an annoyance - and so attempted to round them up and cart them off. When that failed they then tried to starve them into surrender by killing and driving away the beasts they lived off. Of course, the end result of such ill advised action was that the once peaceful buccaneers joined together and made a determined effort to steal as much Spanish property as feasible, kill as many Spaniards as they could and apprehend as many Spanish ships as was humanly possible.
In 1630, with the Spanish hot on their trail, they moved to the small island of Tortuga, and banded together under the ‘Confederacy of the Brethren of the Coast’ and soon captured Spanish ships and arms with which they fortified the island. By nature lawless and by inclination violent they existed under a stern code of discipline and sailed under a set of drawn up articles that known as the Custom of The Coast were written down and religiously adhered to. The first of these rules was the ‘no prey no pay’ edict in that the plunder went into one kitty and the booty shared out according to rank, status and disability pensions. For example, the loss of a right arm would bring compensation to the tune of some 600 pieces of eight or, curiously enough, six slaves whilst the loss of a finger brought 100 pieces of eight or one slave.
Entirely at odds with this rather egalitarian charter was the some of the pirate’s treatment of the Spanish. The Frenchman, Francis L’Ollonais, who known as, The Flail Of The Spanish, was heralded for his penchant for torturing Spanish captives. He would often tear out the tongues of his victims in an effort to discover the whereabouts of their treasure (not that this modus operandi was that good a move as then they were unable to tell him) and was once known to have cut out the heart of a Spaniard with his cutlass and then gnawed and chewed on it - no picnic, or maybe it was. Curiously L’Ollonais ended his days at the hands of native South American Indians who ate him.
Another pirate captain, Dutchman, Roche Brasiliano, decided it was time to roast a few Spaniards over a fire whilst still alive, just because they would not tell him where their pigs were corralled. At other times he would happily cut off an offending Spanish limb and let said victim watch his own appendage roast. Yet, however excessive many of these barbarities appear they must be viewed in relation to the times. The Spanish had led the way in the International League of Qualified Torturers under the auspices of the Grand Inquisitor Tomas De Torquemada and many of the Tortuga based buccaneers such as L’Ollonais had been indentured slaves on the Spanish plantations and had suffered unbelievable cruelties at the hands of their captors from whom they learnt the gentle art of brutality while Brasiliano had been tortured by the Inquisition at Campeche Mexico.
Of course, many might attest that the Spanish deserved such treatment. Having raped, slaughtered and subjugated millions of un-Godly South Americans, every ounce of gold and silver that travelled through the Caribbean had been stolen from the indigenous civilizations, while in the 16th Century to facilitate their empirical zeal, create plantations and raise the crops therein, they initiated the slave trade from Africa to the New World. Thus your average buccaneer might be regarded as morally intact as they were indeed stealing from thieves.
Favouring small fast and easily maneuvered cedar sloops (akin to the small speedboats used by Somalians today) that carried as many as fifty men and 11- 14 guns the pirates were hard to catch and especially as they, resident in the islands, knew the waters far better than any foreign captain. Lying in wait in some shadowy inlet they monitored ships as they left port laden with goods and then boldly sidled up to a merchant vessel laden with goods and, while the English favored cannon, French buccaneers preferred small arms and knives and simply shot at the helmsman (ex hunters they were expert marksmen) incapacitated the rudder and then swarmed aboard pistols cocked and knives clenched between teeth.
Soon they realised that there was more to piracy than pure vengeance and sailing on a wave of opportunism discovered that a good living was to be had by plundering not just the Spanish but all who traversed the Caribbean. In fact it was the Tortuga buccaneer who precipitated the bankruptcy of the Dutch East India Company. And as the word got their ranks were bolstered by all manner of seafaring folk such as mutineers and able-bodied seaman captured after an attack and easily coerced to sign the articles. Many of this willing body of men had been press ganged to sea (some estimates state that fifty per cent of all sailors press ganged died at sea) and grabbed from the docks of London's East End, Bristol or Cardiff only to be encased in a floating wooden hell, made to work every hour God gave while the slightest slacking was rewarded with either the Cat O' Nine Tails or a simple drowning. And then they were cheated of your wages.
Many pirates had been indentured servants who had been either kidnapped as children thrown on a ship and sold. Others were petty criminals or political dissenters, all banished to the Caribbean by the courts to work out their sentence as slaves on the plantations. By the mid 17th Century the British West Indies had become a dumping ground for thousands upon thousands of so called malefactors (some of whom had been guilty of only vagrancy) who had been sold by their governments to land owners to work the sugar plantation and were disallowed to return home when their they had worked out their contract. And lest we forget it was at this time that the slave trade was in full-unbridled flow and subsequently it has been estimated that 40 percent of all pirates were in fact freed black slaves bound to work in the plantations. In fact many would have been fearsome warriors captured in Africa (where slavery had existed between tribes for thousands of years) by other tribes and sold off to the white man. To be sure the pirate community was the only community in the Western world where blacks were accepted and had exactly the same opportunities as their white confederates, which as luck would have it were many.
By 1655 the British had wrested Jamaica from the Spanish and early governors offered letters of marque (papers that legalized their piracy) to buccaneers wanting to settle in Port Royal just as long as they continued to harass the Spanish and thus aid the vulnerable colony. With a vast harbour able to shelter five hundred ships sympathetic bureaucrats and the perfect location at the centre of the trade routes, Port Royal, became pirate heaven. They were able to plot up, repair, fortify and furnish their ships offload their booty while satiating themselves with every possible hedonistic distraction available to man and beast. Port Royal during the mid 17h.Century had more alehouse (41 one licenses for ale houses were issued in July 1661) gambling dens and brothels (prostitutes were also herded off to the Indies and sold as indentured slaves) within its confines than any other place on earth and soon Jamaica became the centre of buccaneering activity in the Caribbean and therefore the world .One British clergyman sent to administer the Word came back on the same ship he arrived on saying that, ‘since the majority of the population consists of pirates, cut throats and some of the vilest persons in the whole world . I felt my permanence there was of no use.”
Many pirates had been indentured servants who had been either kidnapped as children thrown on a ship and sold.
In 1664 Sir Thomas Modyford was made governor of Jamaica and landed on 4 June with seven hundred planters and their slaves, marking the wholesale introduction of a slavery-based plantation economy in Jamaica. At first he tried to subjugate the buccaneer but when Britain declared war on Spain in March 1665, he began reissuing even more letters of marque. And the pirates certainly made full use of this newfound legitimacy. Soon the rabid buccaneers ruled the high seas and let the Spanish and Dutch seafarers feel the full extent of their odious wrath securing the island for the British crown. As the eminent historian Edward Long declared at the time: “It is to the buccaneers that we owe the possession of Jamaica at this hour.” With their newfound wealth the pirates let rip in the depraved enclave that was Port Royal and engaged in, “all manner of debauchery with strumpets and wine.” The aforementioned Roche Brasiliano, a staunch and powerful leader at sea, was said to have lost the plot whilst on land- as the latter day chronicler and pirate butler Esquemeling states, “Being in drink he (Brasiliano) would run up and down the street beating and wounding whom he met, no person daring to oppose him or make any resistance.” Roche not alone in his endeavors was joined by a vast mob of tearaways who, as Esquemeling describes,” will spend 2 or 3 thousand pieces of eight [a piece of eight was about a dollar and is where the dollar sign comes from] in one night, not leaving themselves per adventure a good shirt to wear in the morning…thus upon a certain time I saw one of them of them give unto a common strumpet five hundred pieces of eight, only that he might see her naked. My own master would buy a whole pipe of wine and, placing it in the street would force everyone in the street that passed by to drink with them, threatening also to pistol them if they would not do it.”
With legal prey, magnificent booty and the crack at every corner piracy slipped into high gear with the likes of Henry Morgan who upped the ante fielding vast fleets of armed brigands and so it continued even after the Brits outlawed the tradition.
The Golden age of Piracy
Curiously it was peace that heralded the Golden Age of Piracy in the West Indies in the first part of the 18th Century. After the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 even though the European powers lived peacefully many a legalized plunderer and pillager was left out of work and so they continued their practices without government sanction.
Yet even though the situation had changed one thing did not and that was the articles. Now even stronger and even more enforced the Captain was elected and commanded only in ‘fighting, chasing or being chased.” He received the same rations as his crew and might be voted out if guilty of cowardice or cruelty .A duly elected quartermaster doled out the booty according to rank (captains, musicians, carpenters ands surgeons earned the most) and adjudicated in disputes while a Pirate council made of all the crew decided on who to attack and where to go. They shared their bounty out in what Rediker calls "one of the most egalitarian plans for the disposition of resources to be found anywhere in the eighteenth century". To add, the pirates ate and slept where they wanted. Many of the late 17th/ 18th Century British pirates were of Welsh or West Country origin while others were drawn from French, Spanish, Scandinavian and Portuguese and mulatto stock. The average captain would be in his thirties or forties while most of his crew would be in their twenties. Among those wanted for plundering off the coast of Virginia in 1699 were’ Tee Wetherly, short very small blind in one eye about eighteen; William Griffith, short, well set dark hair about thirty,” and one “Thomas Simpson short small much squint eyed about ten of age.”
By the dawning of the 18th Century piracy on the high seas had shifted slightly in that the new breed centered on The Bahamas- particularly New Providence-, which by 1716 had become a veritable ‘nest of pyrates’ all of whom preyed on the merchant ships traveling to and from Virginia. A new Port Royal it featured a natural inlet big enough to contain 500 pirates’ sloops but was too shallow to allow entry to pursuing warships. Opportunist entrepreneurs opened bars, gambling houses and brothels that catered to the pirates every need and the craic was had. Subsequently, in 1717 English pirate captains Thomas Barrow and Ben Horn gold declared New Providence a Pirate Republic with them as governors only to be joined by prominent pirate leaders Charles Vane, Calico Jack Rackham, Thomas Burgess and Blackbeard while the a tented city full of miscreants grew in the name of Nassau.
And it was here that the pirate caricature grew as most, while on shore, aped English Dandies adorning themselves with plundered silks, satins velvet and lace, tricorn hats with plumes atop and silver buckled high heeled shoes. They even took to applying a bit of powder to both wig and their gloriously battered faces- their scars and stubble cheekily forcing their way out of the flour coloured powder. And then there was the jewellery: the forerunner of bling and as gaudy as any suspect latter day US pimp or rap star featured long hooped earrings, massive rings, pearl necklaces and heavy gold chains with emerald and ruby encrusted crosses that purloined from Spanish ships on the way back to the mother country were once the pride and joy of many a pompous bishop. A total dandy, one of the greatest ever pirates to roam the seas, the tea total Welsh man, Bartholomew Roberts aka Black Bart (Barti Ddu in Welsh) dressed to the nines before he attacked any of the 460 ships he so famously captured. And as one observer noted after Bart was killed in battle in 1722 of the coast of Cape Verde: “Roberts himself made a gallant figure, at the time of the engagement, being dressed in a rich crimson damask waistcoat and breeches, a red feather in his hat, a gold chain round his neck, with a diamond cross hanging to it, a sword in his hand, and two pairs of pistols slung over his shoulders.”
But ‘pride comes before the fall, and while Bart’s ending was regarded as the death knell of the pirate by the end of the 1720’s the Caribbean pirates day was almost over. To begin, the Piracy Act of 1721 had delivered a killer blow by extending the same sentences to those who dealt with pirates as the pirates themselves thus ostracizing a whole chunk of sympathizers now petrified of buying stolen goods .To add, times had changed- no longer were the pirates attacking Spanish ships who attracted little sympathy but also innocent merchant ships that plied goods to needy settlers. Ipso facto as pirate sympathy dissipated more of the brigands were caught and hanged (44 were hanged in one month in Virginia in 1719) which in turn provoked a whole new level of pirate savagery most ably illustrated by the deeds of Edward Low and George Lowther who, as their contemporary Captain Charles Johnson wrote in 1723, “ almost as often murdered a man from their excess of good humour as out of passion and resentment… for danger lurked in their very smiles.” It was said that the two once lopped of a whaling captains ears and made him eat them with dash of salt and pepper while a simple beheading was merely sport.
Piracy continued in the Caribbean on an almost daily basis until the 1830s when the British navy, then at their most powerful was able to suppress it. But the pirate legacy is still apparent in the West Indies today. Jamaica’s national maxim ‘out of many comes one’ reflects the entirely mixed bag of nationalities from which the pirates, and as a result the countries inhabitants, are drawn. And as colour was never an issue amongst these amazingly democratic and egalitarian buccaneer scoundrels all procreated to create the melting pot that is Jamaica. The pirate captain Henry Morgan attracted a rather large contingent of Welsh, Scottish and Irish pirates. The resulting accent, as well as the fact that many of Jamaicans still have British names (Lloyd, Morris, Mc Gregor, Marley) is a direct consequence of such pirate action. as is the accent.
PIRATES OF NOTE
Born in Llanrhymney, South Wales in 1635, Morgan was the man who pushed the buccaneers and Port Royal to their debauched zenith and took the art of piracy to an altogether different level. After traveling to the Caribbean, in 1663, as a soldier (his uncle was Edward Morgan Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica after the Restoration of Charles 11 in 1660), in late 1665 he commanded a ship amongst the expedition commissioned by Governor Modyford led by veteran privateer Edward Mansfield to recapture the former English puritan colonies of Providence and Santa Catalina off the coast of Nicaragua. After the older mans death at the hands of the Spanish Morgan took over the captainship of the pirate flotilla and soon carved out a name for himself as a right nasty piece of work, leading his men into battle by example and using the most extreme methods imaginable to discover the whereabouts of Spanish booty. Having earned both his letter of Marque, and the nod, from Jamaican Governor Modyford in 1688, Morgan now more ‘privateer’ that ‘buccaneer’ pulled together his 700 strong bunch of mad bastards and attacked, Puerto del Principe. That same year he attacked Puerto Bello at the Isthmus of Panama, then the third richest city and most fortified city in the New World with just 460 men, routed the garrison and wracked the inhabitants only to return to Port Royal with 500,000 pieces of eight, a vast cache of jewellery and loot along with three hundred slaves which they divided according to the charters, with the King and the Governor getting their share and Morgan a massive whack.
His most daring move was to attack the so-called ‘cup o’gold’ Panama City - the gateway to the Spaniards coveted South America – with 40 ships and 2000 men. He captured the quiet port of San Lorenzo on the Caribbean side of Panama, then marched for eight days through the jungle to reach the city - their hopes to live off the land doused by a Spanish scorched earth policy leaving many having to eat their leather bags and shoes to survive. Once outside Panama, and outnumbered 3 to 1 by the Spanish, many of who were on horseback, the ragged and starving buccaneers overcame the city and the wild bulls stampeded towards them. What followed was an orgy of bloodletting, torture and celebration, the like of which that had never been witnessed even amongst the absurd proportions of the buccaneering fraternity. Thus they exited, after blowing up the ancient city, in February 1671 with the princely sum, that less than they had expected, amounted to 750,000 pieces of eight - which in today’s money would buy a minor European principality, lock, stock and barrel – along with gold doubloons, silver bars, gold ingots, pearls and jewelry
Unfortunately for both Morgan and Modyford, England had signed the Treaty of Madrid in July 1671, thus making Panamanian venture unlawful and both men were somehow arrested and brought back to the Tower of London. The pressure soon relented, however, with King Charles taking particular interest in the pair. Soon Morgan was in the company of rich young nobles. Being largely perceived as a hero in London, he was then knighted in 1674 and made Lieutenant governor of Jamaica the following year.
On his return to the island he took his new post far too seriously and was soon instrumental in the capture and hanging of many an old colleague and pirate. But as they say, the Lord works in mysterious ways as within fourteen years, on the 25th August 1688, he died of tuberculosis while his huge fortune hidden somewhere in Port Royal (that today would be worth billions) was lost, just 4 years after his death, along with most of Port Royal in the Great Earthquake of 1692. A case of karma if I’ve ever seen one.
Edward Teach or Blackbeard as he came to be known was said to have hailed from Bristol, Jamaica or Carolina depending on who tells the story. A former privateer (licensed pirate) out of Port Royal Teach (or Thatch or Tash) began as a deckhand and, after serving his apprenticeship under Captain Hornigold, was soon given a sloop of his own along with 70 men which he soon replaced with a purloined Dutch gunner he re-named Queen Anne’s Revenge. A huge giant of a man, Blackbeard, struck fear into his combatants by boarding ship with a pistol in each hand, six in his bandolier, black gunpowder smeared around his eyes with lighted tapers attached to his deadlocked hair while at back his Irish drummer banged out a mighty rhythm. Of course, it was all PR as Teach, a great reader of history knew that striking such fear meant an easy capture, little resistance and a modicum of fatalities amongst his crew. No fool, he realised it far more sensible to let people go free than kill them and, although he often let whole crews survive, he did, at times, act on revenge for his many colleagues who’d been hanged from the yardarm after helping the British secure and rule the Caribbean.
Always the first into the fight he was an entirely fearless and, although somewhat reckless, was entirely unpredictable. His final fight occurred off the coast of Carolina. Teach trapped on deck with only two men as back up fought like a demon only to be, as a contemporary reported ‘wounded some twenty five times, eight of which were made by shot and pistol” and as a result died - fighting till the last.”
Undeniably, Teach was a legend who struck more fear into the hearts and minds of the Atlantic traders than any other pirate of the time. Once they spotted the Jolly Roger they were totally distraught but soon as they saw Teach they were genuinely suicidal. As he once said “Whatever hand fate may have dealt us one thing you must remember…. we will not be forgotten.”
Anne Bonney and Mary Read
Both crew members on board the ship of pirate captain Calico Jack, the two ladies had put up a memorable fight before being captured alongside their leader in Negril Bay, Jamaica, everyone else having scarpered. At their trial, to everyone’s utter bewilderment, it was discovered that the two-crew members who had staged this entirely sensational last stand were in fact women disguised as men. So fantastic was this public revelation that as Captain Charles Johnson states in his book, The General History Of The Pirates “Some may be tempted to think the whole story no better than a novel or romance; but it was supported by many thousand witnesses, I mean the people of Jamaica who were present at their trials and heard the story of their lives upon the first discovery of their sex”.
The stories of both Bonnie and Read are not only similar, but totally remarkable, in that the pair not only ended up on the same ship but were the only two left fighting a courageous last stand onboard- both having only recently become aware of each others identity and sex just before the fight.
Mary Read, born in London the illegitimate daughter of obscure stock, first became a” footboy” to a French lady, then “seaman “aboard a British man of war, then a “cadet” foot soldier in Flanders. She somehow married but, for reasons best known to herself, found it necessary to board the ship, The West India Man, for passage to the Caribbean.
It was on board this transatlantic ship that she first came across Calico Jack, Anne Bonney and their pirates. The pirates attacked the ship with Bonney in male attire alongside Calico Jack. Read was said to have put up such a good fight that, showing such excellent swordsmanship, she, dressed as a man, was promptly invited to join the crew of Calico Jack’s buccaneers and readily accepted.
Anne Bonney, on the other hand, was the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy Irish lawyer who had migrated to Carolina.Disguised as a man she frequented the waterfront dives where she met and married an itinerant sailor and ne’er do well by the name of John Bonney. Soon after wedlock she was swept off her feet by the dashing pirate leader, “Calico” Jack Rackham (known so because of his penchant for calico underwear). Jacks modus operandi when courting a woman was as someone once said were similar to that of taking a ship “no time wasted, straight up alongside, every gun brought to play, and the prize boarded”. Such was Rackham’s expertise in affairs of the heart that she left hubby joined Jack and became a pirate. Shortly after her earning her pirate stripes Bonney met passenger Mary Read whilst robbing “The West India Man” and the rest, if I might be so bold, is history.
Both women pleaded pregnancy at their trial and as a result had a stay of execution. The poorer and less influential Mary Read, as is the case with prisoners of meagre means, died in the prison at Spanish Town.Bonney with the help of her influential father arranged a return to Carolina, not before she was granted one last visit to Rackham, her former sweetheart, who was awaiting the gallows in prison. The meeting was short and to the point with Bonney chastising Jack, because of his lacklustre and cowardly performance at Negril, stated” I am sorry to see you here, but if you had fought like a man you would now not be hanged like a dog.”
MODERN DAY PIRACY
Most contemporary observers have until recently dismissed piracy as a thing of the past, but the whole ethic for the last 15 years has very much alive and sailing. In the South China Seas, tattooed Oriental pirates peruse the sea disguised as fishermen, preying on unsuspecting tourists attracted to the miraculous sights on the Gulf of Tongkin. More serious aficionados prowl the same seas in search of ocean going yachts, liners and freighters, stalking and then attacking their victims employing the an impressive array of sophisticated weaponry left over from recent conflicts in the territory. Once the vessels are brought to bear, the brigands board the vessels and steal the hi-tech radar and computer systems the ships employ as part of their everyday existence along with the not inconsiderable cargo the ships carry. The pirates, to evade capture, then put these highly sophisticated systems to great use side stepping specialist police squads specially created to combat the rise in piracy. Much of the booty is the state of the art computer and electronic produce produced in South East Asia.
But these are not the only criminals that earn a living out of piracy per se. In the Mediterranean it is now not uncommon for the luxurious yachts of the rich and famous to fall foul of gun toting gangs of seafaring thieves. Some board and steal the not inconsequential personal belongings of the owners, whilst the Albanian pirates are to known to attack and kill their prey just to steal their paint and rope.
In 1996, the threat of Albanian pirates was first dropped right on our doorstep when British businessman Keith Hedley was shot dead whilst aboard his yacht in Gouvia Corfu. Later in the same year a Welsh couple were robbed on their charter yacht by bandits armed with rocket launchers. . Putting that in the shade is the disappearance in the South China seas of the tanker, The Petro Ranger, along with its 22-man crew and 11,000 tons of diesel and kerosene. Such is the magnitude of this seemingly archaic problem in South East Asia that The Piracy Reporting Centre in Kuala Lumpur describes the area as a ‘hotbed’ of activity, with all manner of pirates attacking any type of craft armed with everything from machetes to rocket launchers. Their advice, as far as Indonesia is concerned, is that one should not ‘enter or harbour in Indonesian waters’, and wherever possible employ the services of a vigilant and, if possible, armed guard on deck’. Statistically, if pirates do board you, there is a 30% chance of you and your crew getting killed.
Many of the pirates seem to be fishermen who seeing a chance of booty seize the moment and their victim’s possessions. Earlier this year, the bulk carrier Kenmare was boarded off the Ivory Coast by four knife-wielding pirates who threatened the captain and stole ...two ropes. “The paint and rope scenario is very common”, says Stephen Saville of the PRC, “and most go unreported as it’s not worth the captains while.”
On the other end of the scale is big business piracy - the hijacking of entire ships - which is done either with the connivance of the crew or with a fully manned pirate crew who board the vessel and take over, setting the real crew adrift on lifeboats. The ship’s cargo is then rapidly resold and the ship repainted, renamed and supplied with false documentation. The new owners then set up office in, at times, nothing more than a hotel room and go about their business. These ships are then employed as cargo carriers for a limited number of journeys before being either abandoned or sunk.
On a more normal note PRC’s advice to your general holidaymaker on board a yacht is to keep all valuables locked up, be extremely vigilant, particularly in vulnerable areas, and not to attempt any unnecessary resistance. As Saville says, “why be stabbed to death over a bit of rope and a few cans of paint”.
Somali pirates have more in common with pirates of yore that one might imagine. Indeed, they employ fast motor and speedboats that can circle their prey and disappear without a bye your leave and use arms either captured in battle or left over from the many wars that have plagued their region. To add, settlements have sprouted up on the coast, just like Nassau or Port Royal, replete with bars restaurants, whore house and gambling dens while the pirates themselves, in true African fashion, have carved themselves a tidy little idiosyncratic fashion sense all of their own. Yet, maybe the most remarkable similarity is that, just as the Brethren of The Coast were born as a result of Spanish aggression and disregard to their waters, so too did the Somali’s take to their boats after such alien discount. After the Civil War in the early nineties left a land ungoverned thousands of foreign fishing trawlers took the chance to disobey prior regulations and relentlessly fished the Somali waters clean. If that was not enough the Camorra (the Neapolitan Mafia) took to dumping millions of tons of nuclear waste in their seas leaving an uncommonly high rate of cancer amongst those Somalis living on The Horn of Africa. "Somebody is dumping nuclear material here,” testified Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the UN envoy to Somalia. “There is also lead, and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury – you name it. And there has been no clean-up, no compensation, and no prevention from any government."
Taking the law into their own hands the Somali pirates, who now run to an estimated 1000 armed men, joined together and started capturing ships and their crews and holding them for ransom, the most noteworthy being the recent capture of, The Faina, a Ukrainian freighter loaded with 33 Russian-built battle tanks and crates of grenade launchers, anti-aircraft guns, ammunition and other explosives. The leader of the ‘pirates’ who seized the craft
Sugule Ali, spoke recently to a New York Times reporter: “We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits ["sea bandit" is one way Somalis translate the English word pirate]. We consider sea bandits those who illegally fish in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas. We are simply patrolling our seas. Think of us like a coast guard.
“ As soon as we get on a ship, we normally do what is called a control. We search everything. That’s how we found the weapons. Tanks, anti-aircraft, artillery. That’s all we will say right now. We know everything goes through the sea. We see people who dump waste in our waters. We see people who illegally fish in our waters. We see people doing all sorts of things in our waters.”
Of course much of the international outcry is precipitated by the fear is that such weapons might be passed on to insurgent forces throughout the region. “We don’t want these weapons to go to anyone in Somalia,” says Ali.” Somalia has suffered from many years of destruction because of all these weapons. We don’t want that suffering and chaos to continue. We are not going to offload the weapons. We just want the money. What we want is $20 million, in cash for the return of the ship and its cargo. We don’t use any other system than cash.”
Now regarded as an international threat the ‘pirates’ are now surrounded by all sorts of global forces-the US navy being just one. “ We’re not scared,” says an unperturbed Ali. “ We are prepared. We are not afraid because we know you only die once. We’re not afraid of arrest or death or any of these things. For us, hunger is our enemy.”
Entirely admirable none of the Somali’s hostages have ever been killed. I n fact indicative of their treatment of said captives is that the ‘pirates’ have been known to hire caterers on their to cook spaghetti, roasted meats and grilled fish to appeal to the Western palate while they also maintain a good supply of cigarettes and drinks just to keep their captives happy.
‘Killing or harming our hostages is not in our plans,” states Ali. “We don’t want to do anything more than the hijacking. We interact with the hostages in an honourable manner. We are all human beings. We talk to one another, and because we are in the same place, we eat together. If you hold hostage innocent people, that’s a crime. If you hold hostage people who are doing illegal activities, like waste dumping or fishing, that is not a crime. We are patrolling our seas. This is a normal thing for people to do in their regions.”
Who would have thought that in 2009,over 350 years since the buccaneers first set sail the world’s governments would be sitting down to discuss a means to combat ‘piracy’. But here we are and its big news yet, taking all into consideration the Somali’s might well be in in the right, They are fighting against big imperial forces and to be fair we applaud it. I wonder if those kidnapped agree.
Click here for more stories about the sea
Click here for more stories about Life
Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Twitter
Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Facebook