During the Golden Age of Piracy, which was the heyday of colorful characters like Stede Bonnet, Mary Read, and Blackbeard, piracy was a way to survive. These folks had few options for earning a living. The same is still true today. The African coast is ripe with pirates, especially the waters around Somali, because men can earn only $2 a day doing legitimate work. Or they can score $4-5 million per heist. Last year, Somali pirates pocketed $238 million in ransoms.
Where’s our navy when we need them?
It is impossible to patrol and protect the thousands of miles of water infested with pirates. The Somali coastline is a 1,900-mile-long stretch that is one of the busiest shipping channels in the world. Add that to the fact that pirates have gone high tech and it is an impossible situation. Nowadays, pirates in this part of the world are gangs of thugs dressed in military fatigues who use GPS systems and satellite phones to define their targets. They use super fast speedboats to carry them from their “mother ship” to the target vessel. Using sophisticated weaponry, they quickly conquer the slow-moving, unarmed ship they have targeted. Another problem is that ship owners prefer to negotiate with pirates rather than try other tactics because they need to secure their vessels quickly. They could avoid these pirate infested waters if they sailed around the Cape of Good Hope instead. But this would add another three weeks to the journey, as well as result in higher fuel costs, so they won’t do it.
So is there anything we can do about piracy?
The International Maritime Bureau was established in the early 1990s to help control the epidemic. One of the first things they did was to create a 24/7 Piracy Reporting Center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. If a ship’s captain sees anything suspicious or is being pursued by pirates, he can contact PRC and get help. Not only does this help a distressed vessel, it pinpoints the most dangerous places and warns other vessels. Additionally, PRC works with various governments and law enforcement agencies through combined efforts in an attempt to thwart piracy. If you’re interested, you can follow them on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/IMBPiracy
During the era of Blackbeard and Captain Kidd, there wasn’t much that could do about pirates. Because pirates were willing to “fight ‘til the death,” most captains were (and still are) reluctant to battle buccaneers. They chose to surrender instead. If engaged, pirates typically used crude weapons, such as one-shot pistols, canons loaded with whatever could serve as ammunition, and homemade grenades hurled at the pirate ship.
Today, there are many defensive products and techniques already being used to keep pirates from ever boarding a ship, as well as several other exciting tools being invented to combat piracy. One of the latest was invented by Mace Personal Defense, in conjunction with Shipboard Defense Systems. Three-hundred gallon pressurized tanks with loop piping are installed around the ship at intervals of one hundred feet. When activated, pepper spray is released. This keeps pirates from being able to get on board. This spares the crew from having to be armed and facing a shoot out with pirates or being held captive during ransom negotiations.
But despite our best efforts, piracy will continue to be problem through the decades. There’s just too much loot to resist and too many men who like the life of a pirate…