A New Sentinel

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A Filipino Pirate poses with an M-14. Photo by Nitin Vadakul. From The Mariners’ Museum Library collection.

Hello there readers, and welcome back to the Library blog. Some of you may be aware that recent security measures taken by maritime shipping and military forces have contributed to a marked decrease in piracy across the globe, especially off the coast of Somalia. Measures such as arming ships crews, attacking pirate strongholds and increasing naval patrols have all helped reduce this blight on our waterways. However, many people are worried that one measure in particular – arming ships crews – may have a greater negative effect than it does positive gain. In response to arming crews, some pirates are increasing their own firepower and ruthlessness in order to capture their prize.

But hope is not lost! The new security company Marine MTS based in the British city of Aberdeen has developed a new remote vessel tracking system called Sentinel. Sentinel is a software package that monitors the location of a vessel on the water, and can compare this location to local weather and security warnings in order to help the vessel avoid them. In addition, if the vessel departs from its intended course, it can be tracked and followed by operators at Maritime MTS.   Read more

The Longest Run

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A card and envelope, ‘Mauretania’ Leaving Southampton c1920 (from a painting by Harley Crossley.) From the Beazley collection.

Hello readers, and welcome back to the Library blog. Today, we are going to take a break from the topic of piracy to explore the world of steamships 100 years ago today. This past summer, we saw a lot of coverage of the world’s fastest transatlantic steamship, the SS United States. But what was the fastest ship in the world a century ago today? After consulting the Herbert and Norma Beazley collection, which contains ephemera from hundreds of notable steamships, I found that the fastest steamship – and holder of the Blue Riband – was none other than the RMS Lusitania’s sister ship the RMS Mauretania.

The RMS Lusitania held the Blue Riband from 1907-1909, and the RMS Mauretania outdid her sister by taking the Riband in 1909 and holding it for 20 years straight! RMS Mauretania traveled 2,784 nautical miles in 4 days, 10 hours and 51 minutes, for an average speed of 26.06 knotts, beating RMS Lusitania’s speed of 25.65 knotts. During World War I, RMS Mauretania was docked in Liverpool until her sister, RMS Lusitania, was torpedoed and sunk in 1914. RMS Mauretania was thereafter used as a troopship and a hospital ship, and would resume ferrying passengers once the war was over.   Read more

Piracy and Terrorism

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From Thomas B. Hunter’s “The Growing Threat of Modern Piracy,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 125 no. 1 (July 1999), 72-74. From The Mariners’ Museum Library Collection.

Hello readers, and welcome back to the Library blog. Recent posts have concentrated heavily on pirates from the late 17th and early 18th century, but what about the pirates nowadays? Thankfully, some happy news awaits us in that sector. Throughout the year, pirate attacks off of the failed state of Somalia have decreased sharply as a coalition of nations patrol the waterways and merchant ships arm their crews. In addition to these seaborne measures, Somalia’s southwestern neighbor Kenya has recently invaded the areas close to their mutual border in retaliation for constant border transgressions and the kidnapping of tourists in Kenya. The Kenyan military brought the fight to the pirates, destroying pirate strongholds like the one at Kismayo and driving them out of southwestern Somalia. Unfortunately, many of these pirates are also affiliated with a local terrorist branch of Al-Qaeda called Al Shabaab. These terrorists are now bombing Kenyan civilians as revenge for their setbacks.

Events like those described above bring to mind the very real connection between piracy and terrorism that has existed since time immemorial. Terrorism, broadly defined as the use of terror as a coercive measure, can be seen in the fearsome countenance and actions of our favorite pirates of old, like Blackbeard. Blackbeard is famous for lighting candles or furls of weak gunpowder in his beard to create a hellish visage, and when pirates attacked ships or towns they often raped, murdered and stole everything they could get their hands on. So too today, pirates rape murder and rob the hapless victims they come across on the high seas. Piracy has decreased off the coast of Somalia, but the terror attacks in Kenya show that it is still a very real problem and not likely to go away for a long time to come.   Read more

The Difference Between Pirates, Privateers and Buccaneers Pt. 2

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Sir Henry Morgan, viewed as a Pirate by the Spanish and a Privateer by the English. Either way, he also qualifies as a Buccaneer. From The Mariners’ Museum Library collection.

Welcome back, and let’s finish our exploration of pirate terminology with the term “Buccaneer.” Buccaneer is used synonymously with the idea of the 17th-18th century Caribbean pirates, but it actually means something quite specific. When Spain started colonizing the Caribbean in the 16th century, it was initially the only nation to do so. Around the beginning of the 17th century, people from other nations like France, England and the Netherlands started trying to settle in the Caribbean too. The problem was they weren’t welcome in Spanish ports because the Spanish didn’t recognize their right to settle. As a result, the only people willing to trade with these settlers and adventurers were social outcasts like mulattos, Native Americans and shipwreck survivors who largely lived in the wild.

These people sold supplies like water and meat to the non-Spaniards, who started calling them “Boucaniers.” Boucaniers is a French term of some ambiguity, but according to Cotgrave’s 1611 French/English Dictionary, the closely related word Boucane’ translates as a wooden gridiron that these outcasts used to cook meat. In addition, the French already had a verb called “boucaner” which meant “to hang around with lowlives” or “to imitate a foul tempered billy goat.” These words got meshed together, and the French ended up calling the local outcasts boucaniers. From 1620 on, these “boucaniers” started developing reputations as navigators and sharpshooters, so anyone who wanted to move against the Spanish would want some Boucaniers, or Buccaneers, with them for their combat prowess. By 1680, the term Buccaneer was being used to describe not just the locals but any Pirate of Privateer in general. As a result, the Buccaneer was a Pirate or Privateer operating in the Caribbean during the late 17th century and early 18th century. I hope these two posts have been informative, and encourage anyone who wants to know more to come on down to The Mariners’ Museum Library and explore our dozens and dozens of books on the matter. Until next time, have a good day!   Read more

The Difference Between Pirates, Privateers and Buccaneers Pt. 1

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Greetings readers, and welcome back to the Library blog. As we delve deeper into the realm of piracy, a lot of potentially confusing terms are used to make sense of the men and women who struggled over wealth in the late 17th and early 18th century Caribbean. Terms like Pirate, Buccaneer, and Privateer crop up with noticeable frequency, and are often used as synonyms. However, each of these terms has a separate and distinct meaning, even if the people these terms are applied to are too complex for any one title. Therefore, I would be happy to tell you the difference between a Buccaneer, a Pirate, and a Privateer.

Greetings readers, and welcome back to the Library blog. As we delve deeper into the realm of piracy, a lot of potentially confusing terms are used to make sense of the men and women who struggled over wealth in the late 17th and early 18th century Caribbean. Terms like Pirate, Buccaneer, and Privateer crop up with noticeable frequency, and are often used as synonyms. However, each of these terms has a separate and distinct meaning, even if the people these terms are applied to are too complex for any one title. Therefore, I would be happy to tell you the difference between a Buccaneer, a Pirate, and a Privateer.