The UN Security Council Addresses Piracy

Posted on
This service medal, issued during the Korean War, shows the insignia of the United Nations. From The Mariners’ Museum Library collection.

Hello readers, and welcome back to the Library blog. In response to the continual threat of piracy, the United Nations Security Council recently held its first ever debate on the subject. Lead by Indian ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri, the council debated the need for better information sharing techniques, whether or not to continue using armed guards on merchant vessels, and the need for more powerful international laws and punishments for pirates. The full article is available HERE.

The fact that this is the first time piracy has ever been directly discussed and debated in the United Nations Security Council is an indication that, sadly, piracy is not on the decline. Rather, the debate reinforces the notion that piracy still is, and will continue to be, a powerful hostile force that the nations of the world need to unite against. Although many recent steps taken off the Somali coast have given us hope that piracy can eventually be defeated, it will likely be a long, hard journey to reach that conclusion. Perhaps the nations of the world can unite and crush this scourge in the near future. However, until that happens our maritime workers must live under an ever-present threat of harm and death from piracy, and consumers around the world will have to pay a little extra for many of the products we take for granted.   Read more

Pirates in Anglo-American Culture

Posted on
A Jolly Roger flag flown by the USS Ranger. From The Mariners’ Museum collection.

Hello again, readers, and welcome back to the Library blog. A quick look at modern popular culture will make it clear even to the most casual of observers that the Caribbean Pirates of the 17th and 18th century are icons in family entertainment. Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” series has been immensely successful, and the 20th century is full of films about swashbuckling heroes and adventures at sea. And yet, a sampling of our news headlines paints a very different picture of piracy: container ships are ransacked, crews held for ransoms, and tourists are kidnapped or killed. Indeed, the world recognizes this problem and has deployed dozens of warships to counter the pirate threat to commerce and personal safety. Why is there such a dichotomy on the subject of piracy?

As a historian, it seems to me that the issue of piracy meets its natural response in the modern headlines: piracy has been reviled and combated since time immemorial, as it should be. The catch is that people also like stories of adventure, romance and rooting for the underdog. English (and by extension, American) culture especially has always had a bit of a rebellious streak, with heroes like Robin Hood robbing the superfluously rich and thumbing their noses at a corruption. For the Anglo-American world, pirates served as an excellent source of rebellious fun once they had faded into the past a bit, and books like Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island capitalized on this fun in the late 1800s. About two centuries had passed since the buccaneers had last prowled the Caribbean, and it seemed safe to feature pirates as a source of adventure.   Read more

Piracy and Terrorism

Posted on
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. 1

Posted on

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.