Piracy at sea, past and present



The purpose of this report is to educate readers of the piracy at sea comparing piracy in the past and present. The earliest record of piracy at sea was in the year 69 in the Mediterranean Sea, however piracy is suspected to have dated back to the time where humans started using the sea as their trade routes the exact date is not known. The Medias used to gather and compile to put this report together was mainly found on search engines like Google or yahoo and online encyclopaedias also contributed, minimal information was taken from newspaper articles. The history of piracy, infamous pirates, background of pirates and also modern day pirates are just a few of the points on piracy that will be covered in this report. The act of piracy is mainly carried out for gold or money that the pirates will demand for certain goods that they have taken from a ship or the entire ship itself. The only punishment for pirates in the past was hanging if they were caught however the navy was occasionally called in to capture these pirates and in some cases large numbers of pirates were wiped out. The creator of the Jolly Roger was by 18th century pirate Captain Jack Calico Rackham. The bodies of the hanged pirates were sometimes left alone to scare the civilians preventing them from wanting to become pirates to avoid the grisly fate of death by hanging. There are numerous causes for the unusually large number of pirates in Somalia however the same cannot be said for pirates in other parts of the world as the government lacking Somalia can do little to prevent ships from other countries from overfishing and dumping of toxic waste in their waters destroying their marine life. In the past wooden ships with sails and occasionally oars were used by pirates and a reinforced hull would often be added to ram ships. Modern day pirates however use small speed boats that are able to chase down large tankers on shipping lanes and they are also equipped with semi-automatic rifles. Some shipping companies have equipped their ships with radar and a sonic weapon that creates a high frequency sound wave bursting the ear drums of pirates preventing from hijacking vessels, the radar helps to locate nearby vessels that are unknown allowing the captain to steer the ship away from them before they are spotted. Some companies also reroute their ships to take a longer more expensive routes in order to avoid places like Somalia where there are many pirates. The only thing that is being done by government is the prosecution of anyone who commits an act of piracy. I do not agree with this as in my opinion the root of the problem should be first addressed before the secondary one can be overcome. For example the root of the problem of piracy in Somalia would be the lack of government so that should be solved first however nothing is done to solve it. Pirates have long been used in Medias such as the movies and television where the pirates are portrayed as people who wear the same thing all the time and carry weapons. The media also show pirates with weird accents and they use weird combination of words that will be later revealed in shows or books what they mean.

1. Introduction

1.1 Purpose

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This report will be used to educate people and allow them to further understand piracy at sea and to allow introduction of certain methods that could be used to prevent piracy, precautions that can be taken by both the government and the shipping industry. It will consist of the definition, the causes, history of piracy at sea to date and also statistics on the subject.

1.2 Background

Piracy dates back to the time when people started using the sea as trade routes. It is an act of robbing or cause violence to the sailors on another vessel. Piracy can occur on shore or at sea, the numerous definitions of modern day piracy includes kidnapping where one holds a prisoner for ransom. Seizing of valuable items carried on the ship while on route to a port for example oil, cars, weapons. The sinking of ships is also considered an act of piracy.

1.3 Method of Research

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Most of the information in this report was attained by collecting information from multiple online databases and compiling them. Other sources include newspaper articles also biographies of hostages and pirates that decided to pen down their experiences, documentaries also contributed to the production of this report as many interviews were done on both pirates and their victims.

1.4 Scope of Research

This report will mainly cover the history of pirates and their origins, well known pirates and the things they did to become infamous, pirates in present day their causes and ways to help or prevent them from successfully commandeering ships and kidnapping hostages for ransom.

2.1 Early beginnings

The oldest records tell us that the earliest known pirate went by the name of Anicetus born in Rome and died in Georgia. He was a captain in the Mediterranean Sea during the year 69. However it is believed that piracy started from as early as when men started using oceans as trade routes.

2.2 Aims

The main aims of pirates are believed to plunder and loot from other vessels or kidnapping for ransoms. Most pirates truly had to resort to piracy in order to survive while some did it for the adrenaline rush or an act of rebellion.

2.3 Steps taken in the past

Capture of pirates for bounty was common in the past as it was used as a way to discourage them from continuing in their line of work. That tactic hardly worked and some nations raised fleets in order to fight back against the pirates and provide some security on trade routes where pirates are known to roam.

2.4 Infamous Pirates

The 18th century pirate Calico Jack Rackham was famous for the use of the Jolly Roger which become a symbol for pirates and is still used in entertainment purposes.

The Vikings were also made famous by story books and films that portrayed them as pirates with round shields that wielded axes and wore their infamous helmets with antlers or horns mounted on top.

2.5 Hangings

Pirates in the past were sentenced to hang and their bodies were often left to hang for a certain period of time in order to instil fear into people preventing them from approaching the life of a pirate. Many infamous pirates that were hanged include William Kidd, Charles Vane, Jack Calico Rackham, and William Fly.

3. Causes of piracy

3.1 Somalia

The main reason why Somalia fishermen have begun to turn to piracy as their occupation would be because of the collapse of the Somalia government in 1991 which led to the lack of law enforced on the sea around Somalia allowing fishing vessels from other nations to carry out large scale pollution and fishing of the rich seas surrounding Somalia. This eventually led to the depletion of fish around the area that forced fishermen to look for other means to survive in the already economically unstable country. Many of which were too old to change and take the time to learn new skills as their families were starving hence they eventually resorted to piracy. They believe that the true criminals are in fact those that depleted their natural resources and polluted it. Their act of piracy is merely a mean of communicating with the world telling them that they require help and people need to stop dumping waste and overfishing in their waters. Before the people resorted to piracy they attempted to chase away illegal fishing trawlers from their waters by approaching them with speedboats and attempting to collect a fee from them but this was futile as. It is a known fact that over 300 million dollars worth of fishes and other goods are illegally caught and smuggled from there by these fishermen. Their attempts to continue fishing in their own waters have also failed as they claimed foreign fishing vessels attempt to ram them and have cut their net which makes the problem even worst. Their lack of government prevents them from communicating to the world as there is no appointed leader. Many of the current pirates in Somalia started of as a group that wanted to give some sense of security to fishermen but eventually became pirates. Hence the main problem can be said to be their lack of government an issue that has to be solved eventually to stabilize the country that is currently falling apart. Certain international unions however back the Somali pirates and even support them as they believe it is a way of telling the world that they need help and people need to stop illegally fishing and dumping waste in their waters.

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Picture of a Somali pirate

3.2 Other parts of the world

Pirates are also known to roam around the straits of Malacca, Singapore, the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. These pirates commit piracy with different reasons compared to the Somali pirates as they do it because they can, compared to most Somali pirates that do not have a choice. Some of these pirates are just gangsters that do it because it is a crime.

4.1 Methods used in the past by pirates

Pirates in the past used fast boats in order to chase down merchant vessels or outrun navies. When attempting to loot a merchant vessel they would go close enough to use grappling hook and board the ship looting and killing everyone aboard, they would then either bury the treasure or bring it back to their strongholds where the loot will be split among them with the captain dividing the loot up evenly while he took a larger share, for other vessels such as fishing or navy vessels they would either attempt to outrun them or ram them with their reinforced hulls sinking ships. Later pirates also used cannons to disable ships for easier plunder. Many of the crew would carry weapons such as swords or guns to fight.

4.2 Methods used by pirates in the modern age

Modern day pirates similar to their older counterparts make use of small speed boats to chase after merchant vessels heavily armed with modern day semi-automatic weapons they would then board the ship and capture the crew as hostage for a ransom that the shipping company will have to pay in order to get the goods, ship and crew back to continue the journey. These ransoms can be large sums of money which is why many shipping companies nowadays resort to taking a longer more expensive trip rather than risking the chance of their ships getting taken by pirates.

4.3 Current piracy statistics

Piracy at sea has an estimated loss of 13 to 16 billion dollars each year, with the current surge of pirates in Somalia these numbers are believed to increase. The money compiles from mainly ransom collected by pirates and also belongings of the crew member.

5.1 Current methods to prevent piracy

The methods currently used at sea are the patrolling of coast guards around straits that provide a false sense of security to vessels as these coast guards are not able to escort every ship in and out of their country hence piracy occurs quite frequently at places with little or no coast guards where the guards will be out of site or have just past the area. Ships are also equipped with radar so it is up to the crew members to defend themselves from pirates as regularly checking the radar will help them avoid areas where unknown vessels are in the area. Some ships are also equipped with a sonic weapon that emits a high frequency sound wave which is able to burst ear drums preventing pirates from boarding the ship.

5.2 Steps taken by the government

The current laws enforced by the government against pirates is that action will be taken against anyone that puts a life in danger or is a threat to communication at sea

5.3 Steps taken by shipping companies

There are a few precautions that shipping companies can take against pirates. However the few steps that are being taken by shipping companies include the rerouting of routes around areas that have a high rate of being attacked by pirates, routing their ships to follow a safer path by staying close to coast guard patrol routes and also helping their crew prepare against pirate attacks or they could also completely avoid these areas.

5.4 Steps that should be taken in my opinion

Firstly the main problem that is causing people to becoming pirates should be addressed, for example the lack of a government in Somalia could be said to be the main problem in the high pirate population in the country. Hence the United Nations ought to seek away to solve it for example colonizing it to a country with more economic stability or take some responsibility and help to lead the country out of poverty. Government of countries close to Somalia should also take action and ensure that their fishing vessels do not illegally enter into Somalia to fish, allowing Somalis to return to their way of life.

6. Pirates portrayed by the media

Movies on pirates usually include them dressed in a long coat with a few layers of clothes inside and the captain usually wears a triangular hat and carries a blade by his side. The captain is usually a formidably fighter that has certain values like leadership, rough edged voice, fierce look and a quick mind that is able to think clearly through battle. The term walk the plank was popularized by the film peter pan. Many movies also showed pirates talking in their unique accent and the many uncommon words used. Pirates were also portrayed as people that held many secrets and talked frequently in code words where viewers would not know the meaning until the actions were carried out

Picture from the film Pirates of the Caribbean

7. Conclusion

With this report i conclude that piracy is a crime that has been around for an extremely long time and this will not change. The only thing that we can change will be the number of pirates at sea by rooting out the problems we will be able to help some of the pirates who have been forced into a life of piracy for example the Somali pirates. It can also be concluded that if governments from every country in the world take some responsibility the current rate of piracy can be lowered.