A Very Fond Farewell

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A new voyage awaits. From The Mariners’ Museum Library collection.

Hello everyone, and welcome once more to the Library blog. Sadly, today is my last day writing for you fine readers, and I want you to know what an honor it has been. When I arrived at the Library in June, I knew nothing about the SS United States, but with some guidance and access to the Library’s archives I was able to discover her very real and very poignant story. In my mind’s eye, she is not only AN ocean liner – she is now THE ocean liner, and still fastest in the world. I likewise new little about piracy, save that it was a problem off of Somalia. Through investigation of the Library’s resources and rare book collection, I found out where our modern conception of pirates came from and how much of a problem it still is even in the modern day. For the past six months, these topics have been the focus of my blog posts, but there in truth they only scratch the surface of what the Library has to offer.

For every photograph, book or document featured in my posts, dozens more exist in the archive. I could spend a lifetime documenting, organizing and analyzing the sources available here – nevertheless, I’m grateful for the six months I HAVE had. It has truly been a pleasure to work on the Library blog. The staff members have been universally kind and helpful, and I am still surprised at how much I learned. My deepest thanks go out to Jay, Jenn, Tom, Bill, Patti, and all the rest of The Mariners’ Museum Library family that made me feel welcome and helped me discover a whole new world hidden in the archives. Thanks for reading, and farewell.   Read more

The UN Security Council Addresses Piracy

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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

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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

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

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