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Today is Thursday, February 21, 2019


Not Applicable

Piracy, has many faces and can used to describe hostile like deeds at sea, on large bodies of water and ashore undertaken by private individuals. It been around for almost as long as man began using ships for commerce and continues in some areas almost unabated.

 In the European area, as far back as 75BC, at the tender age of 25 a man who was to become the acknowledge and undisputed Emperor of Rome was taken hostage by Ciclian Corsaires. Ceasar was rasomed but retruned to excact retribution on those who had held him captive by quite literally having them crucfied.

Corsaires used shallow bottomed bottomed galleys fitted with rams and went about ramming other vessels. They were mainly after rich hostages whom they held to ransom while the poor were taken a slaves and put to work on the galleys.

While their dominion was centered on the Mediterranean one of the more adventurous of them had a foray to Iceland.

Piracy spread to the Carribean lured by the enormous weath they could plunder carried by cumbersome slow moving treasure ships. Here the bounty was the riches of gold and other precious comodities of the new world much of it taken by force from the inhabitants of South America. They fortified the Island of Tortuga chosen because of its easily defended sheltered harbour and more importantly, its  closeness to the main shipping lanes.

Port Royal (owned by the British at that time) became their next hang out again with an easily defended harbour however, in 1692 it was destroyed by an earthquake followed by a giant Tsunami killing around 4,000 people.

To combat the increasing nuisance European built stronger and faster vessels inlcuding steam powered ones, the pirates were hunted down with most of those captured being killed before being imprissoned. Some made it to Newgate Prison in England only to die of some awful disease before they could be executed. This was effective and around 1720 piracy was relegated to being a minor nuisance.

Meantime piracy was still a booming business from the Red Sea to China and was eventually cleared out by the expansion of the British, Spanish and Dutch colonial powers

Piracy today is widely practiced almost around the world and has recently come back to the world headline stage because of events off Somalia. This is likely the most widely known scene for such a calling. However not so long ago this was definitely not the case. In around 1972 I was on board a fully loaded 39,000 ton steam driven centre castle tanker passing off Obia light on the east coast of Somalia. Due to a catastrophic failure of the in service turbo alternator we lost all power and were unable to recoup from the situation. As we drifted towards the coast, there was no option but to drop anchor to await rescue which involved being towed by another company vessel to Mombasa for repairs. This was a fully loaded 60,000 tanker  - those were the days.

While we languished awaiting rescue without the means to cook food, take a refreshing shower and other such things that makes life comfortable we notice a dhow tacking against the onshore wind coming towards us. It set out about 8am in the morning and arrived alongside at around 4pm – not to take us hostage. But to offer the services of a doctor to provide medicine and treatment for anyone who may have been injured by our misadventure. How things have changed, but, why?

 Jim Nicoll

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