Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Piracy off Somalia! A new threat? Not really...
I get a kick out of all the sudden clamor over piracy off Somalia. Those waters have been dangerous for a very long time. As an example here is the story of the greatest act of piracy in history. Note that the money values were in current English pounds of the later 17th century and do not reflect today. These numbers would be vastly larger. Somali pirates of today are actually quite gentile compared to the raiders of the past.
The nature of Piracy is to attack a ship, seize it, plunder what it holds, then sink it, sell it, or use it for future profit. Piracy has been going on for as long as humans have traveled the seas. Julius Caesar spent time as a captive of pirates. The story to be told takes place in the Golden Age of Piracy.
"In August 1695, the English Pirate Henry Every, or "Long Ben" and his ship the Fancy reached the Mandab Strait (where the Somali pirates operate now), where he teamed up with four other pirate ships, including Thomas Tew's sloop Amity. Although a 25-ship Mughal convoy bound for India eluded the pirate fleet during the night, the following day they encountered the greatest ship in the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb's fleet, the Ganj-I-Sawai, and its escort Fateh Muhammed, both passing the straits en route to Surat. After a protracted battle they took both ships.
The victorious pirates then subjected their captives to several days of horror, raping and murdering prisoners at will, and using torture to force them to reveal the location of the ships' treasure. Some of the Muslim women committed suicide to avoid violation or humiliation. Those women who did not kill themselves or die from the pirates' brutality were taken aboard the Fancy. The other survivors were left aboard their ships, which the pirates set free.
The loot from the Ganj-I-Sawai totalled between £325,000 and £600,000, including 500,000 gold and silver pieces. Every and the surviving pirate captains set sail for Réunion, where they shared out £1,000 and some gemstones to every man in the crew."
So how did things end for Henry Every? Well he was one of the few pirates to escape the noose. He went to Ireland and was never seen again. What ended the Golden Age of Piracy was the rise of national navies. Pirates were mercinaries who were contracted by governments to fight for them. Once the contract was up they just kept on fighting. After all what else can you do? Become a farmer? Starve? Governments created the pirates of old, just like we do today. Where did all those Somali pirates learn to fight? In the Somali wars. Who supplied them? Who helped train them?
To stop the Somali pirates of today we probably need to kill a lot of them. Thousands of happless pirates were hanged. Almost all the famous pirates of old met a bad end.
Black Beard: head cut off after being shot
Bart Roberts: Shot in face with grapeshot
Captain Kid: Hanged
Calico Jack Rackham: Hanged
Stede Bonnet: Hanged
Sir Henry Morgan: died broke, and drunk (prophetic since Henry Morgans is a famous Rum)
Sir Francis Drake: died of dysentery