Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Pirate Events, North Carolina

In Wilmington on the Cape Fear Coast of North Carolina, you can take a "Pirates and Unusual Tales" Walk.

The guided tour takes you through a family friendly jaunt through the history of Wilmington's Gentlemen of Fortune and those not so gentlemanly.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Motherships and Sattlelites, Tactics of Modern Pirates

Since the capture of La Ponant, African Pirates have been more present in the news. A few months ago I reported that US led forces off Somalia were searching for pirate mother ships that have been harrying UN food shipments. But what does that mean?

Pirates have been using a high tech distributed structure for their operations which has made it possible for them to attack ships more efficiently and to limit the capture of the higher-ups in their organizations:
The [Somali] "marines", to paraphrase the words of The Pirates of Penzance, are the very model of a modern pirate enterprise. They use converted fishing vessels as "mother ships", from which small boats are directed by satellite telephone to menace targets.

They are believed by Somali and international officials to be responsible for many of the estimated 150 attacks on ships off the Horn of Africa last year. Captured ships and their crews are then ransomed back to their owners. Contacts are in progress between the French owner of the 88-metre yacht Le Ponant, seized last Friday and representatives of the pirates. The French government has refused to rule out the payment of a ransom for the vessel and its mostly French crew of 30. On past experience, officials warn, the negotiations are likely to take several weeks.

There are said to be four major pirate groups off the Somali coast and they have reputations as shrewd businessmen who are courteous to hostages, with excellent communications and military discipline.

A French journalist, Gwen Le Gouil, was held for eight days by the "marines" in December. He said they were "former fishermen, who have converted to illicit operations of various kinds, including hostage-taking and trafficking in people, money and archeological remains. They have no particular political allegiance. Only money counts as far as they are concerned."

Monday, April 28, 2008

Pirates in the News! April 28, 2008

Howdy! This week I'm posting from delightful, landlocked West Texas, I was called away from maritime haunts to visit my parents for their 40th Wedding Anniversary. So Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad! Arrrr!

There's been plenty of piracy in the news this past week, not the least of which seems like a game of catch up by European Nations to be one of the cool kids in pirate thwarting after France's successful return of La Ponant, and France's associated "plan pirate-mer", piracy foreign policy plans that were announced this last week (sorry for those of you who don't speak french).

Spanish, German and Italian Ships have all been sent down to the Gulf of Aden off Somalia, several pirate attacks have been thwarted and these have been making the rounds of the international news.

Of course, what's really interesting is what hasn't been front page news:

In the past couple of days, the story that pirates off the coast of Yemen attacked a 150,000 deadweight ton oil tanker with a rocket got pushed to the back pages (New York Times, AFP, and Wall Street Journal, for example). Each article attributes at least a pip of the recent increase in the price of oil to the attack, even though the attack failed to cause any significant damage.
This quote is from a very interesting article by Eugene Gholz,

Pirates are something of a problem for small ships traveling near Somalia and Yemen. They can approach yachts, tugs, and even small cargo ships. Captains and passengers on these types of vessel should take precautions, perhaps stay out of the dangerous waters and certainly stay alert during transits.

But oil tankers are vastly larger ships — in many cases over a thousand feet long. Pirate boats have trouble approaching tankers at all (dealing with the waves that the tanker pushes outward as it plows through the water), let alone pirates’ subsequent struggle to clamber up the side of a tanker while it is underway (necessary to board the ship and capture its crew and cargo). And clambering would really be necessary: the deck of an oil tanker is quite high off the waterline, well above the deck height of pirates’ boats.

The attack on the Japanese tanker this week may represent an escalation in pirate tactics — firing a rocket at the tanker (rather than just threatening ships with small arms fire), presumably in an attempt to force the tanker to stop so that the pirates could board it. But tankers are so big that rocket fire has almost no effect. The pirates pursued the Japanese tanker for hours and were only able to put a small hole in the ship that had no effect on its ability to continue its journey.

And of course one expects to hear of successes against Somali pirates more than failures, but I find it really compelling when we hear about people rocketing oil tankers, if for no other reason than the drama, and the sheer balls of such an attack. While obviously, as Gholz points out, a few rockets are not enough to take down a super-tanker and the flow of oil across the seas is hardly imperiled, but isn't that pretty interesting news for its own sake?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Pirate Symbols: The Hourglass

While Hourglasses were essential to the proper functioning of ships, keeping track of watches and marking the hours at night where no other clocks could function, they were also important symbols for pirates. Found on my pirate flags, they were a symbol to those pirates were attacking that their time was running out. Seeing symbols like the hourglass on the flag of an approaching vessel filled with hungry, dirty men was meant to impel the pirate's prey to simply give up without fighting, which they often did.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Pirate Events, New York City- Theatre

The Accidental Patriot, The Lamentable Tragedy of The Pirate Desmond Connelly, Irish by Birth, English by Blood and American by Inclination, is opening this weekend in New York City.

Pertinent Logistical information is at The Accidental Patriot's Website or Stolen Chair's Website

I was lucky enough to interview John Stancato, to Co-Artistic Director of the Stolen Chair Theatre Company, and he answered some questions for you, mateys, posed by me. Yarr.

The Pirateologist General (TPG): As a theatre lab "dedicated to theft, recycling and re-examination of historical performance styles" it's obvious that such a briganding theme was bound to cross your bow, but what was the inspirational moment that led you to create The Accidental Patriot…?

John Stancato (JS): In 2005 we launched the CineTheatre Tetralogy, a 4 year mission to adapt 4 classic American film styles for the stage. This series began with The Man Who Laughs, a live silent film for the stage inspired by the Victor Hugo of the same name. Last year we presented Kill Me Like You Mean It, an absurdist film noir for the stage. We had originally wanted the third installment to be a beach movie for the stage and though that idea was soon abandoned, we did find ourselves attracted to the technicolor escapism that something like that could offer. A friend of the company, Mark Killian, suggested we check out the classic swashbucklers of the 1930s. A few of the core company members rented Captain Blood, The Sea Hawk, and The Adventures of Robin Hood and the deal was sealed. From the very first frame of The Sea Hawk, it was totally apparent to all of us that a swashbuckler was impossible to perform on stage. And that is why we had to do it! :)

TPG: What are your personal favorite pirate movies? What just makes you stand up and scream Arrrrr?

JS: I'm really drawn to the two Errol Flynn pirate flix I mentioned above, primarily because his character in both of those is a reluctant/conflicted pirate, much like Orlando Bloom's character in the first of the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy. We also spent some time researching the biographies of Captain Kidd and John Paul Jones, two former pirates who tried to go clean.When the pirate actually struggles with his piratical identity, one gets such a clear glimpse at how exactly, piracy queers a pirate in his relation to mainstream norms. We see how he is outside the bounds of traditional masculinity, class, and national identities.

TPG: As kids did you play pirate? If so, tell me about it, what was your experience with piracy as children? Did any of you build a refrigerator sailing ship and take on passersby to steal their doubloons?

JS: I totally missed out on pirate playtime as a kid. Now that we've got 15 cutlasses and a giant jungle gym of a set with swinging ropes, cargo nets, and sails I keep getting into trouble with the rest of the cast and crew because I wanna play! On some level, one of the purest pleasures of directing this show (and, hopefully, watching it) is the opportunity to sit and marvel as 18 tremendously talented performers get to recapture their youth and play pirate.

TPG: One of your influences is Greek tragedy, are there any specific legends you worked with when creating this opus?

JS: We were looking primarily at the Oresteia of Agamemnon and the Oedipus of Sophocles. Blending them together gives you a sort of "Greeks' Greatest Hits": incest, patricide, tragic flaws, blood curses, vengeance, etc.

TPG: Music played a big part in the life of men at sea, you've included colonial shanties and drinking songs, how do they work into the story you've created?

JS: Early on in the process, we discovered that neither a verse nor prose tragic chorus would work for this piece. It just seemed too incongruent with the swashbuckling world, and not incongruent in a way that really "said" something. In tragedy, the chorus is supposed to provide the rhythmic backbone to a piece and is intended to represent the "common people" affected by the tragedies of the nobles. What better way to bring in rhythm and the voice of the people than to use original melodies from the taverns and shipdecks of the 18th century? We decided to use fiddle as the instrumentation after I read a story about how the pirate Robert Culliford (arch nemesis of Captain Kidd) used to distract enemy boats with his pirate fiddler.

TPG: Does the cast go out on weekends and take on barges in the East River? In short, are you method actors?

JS: Not really, but that's probably just because we've spent every weekend since early March rehearsing. :)

TPG: How do you work the themes of patriotism and piracy together? What made you decide to show this play now?

JS: What really struck me about Captain Blood was that when he swore himself to piracy, he refused to attack English ships, even though he had good cause to be vengeful towards them. So he was, in a manner of speaking, a patriotic pirate. We became really interested in how one could juggle multiple identities simultaneously: pirate, patriot, Irish-born, English-citizen, sympathizer to the American cause. All of us balance our group identifications on a daily basis and it is the stuff of most action films: do I save my country even if it means that my loved one dies? I found myself really interested in this tension as shows like 24 have brought it to absurdly operatic dimensions. I think we realized that the way these things function, at least in popular culture, is that one is 100% committed to a particular affiliation (be it romantic, filial, national, religion etc) until it is no longer expedient to be so and then one unconsciously defaults to an affiliation that relieves us of this tragic conflict. Someone could be "proud to be an American," except when he is prouder to be Jewish, or a New Yorker, or of Italian descent, etc.

TPG: What can someone coming to the show expect to see?

JS: Revenge, romance, massive swashbuckling battles, duels to the death, incredible music, lots of laughs, and one of the coolest sets that has ever been installed in a downtown theatre.

The Accidental Patriot... runs from April 25 through May 17 at The Milagro Theatre in New York City.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Shameless Promotion of Friends

Check out my friend's new blog,

He's hilarious, you will giggle:

Cannibal Holocaust

Don't start
Whether animals died for ego or art
Isn't the issue

The film is bloody
Seven animals died in the shooting spree
But I eat burgers

This makes me a bad person
Those cows might as well be in horror fiction
So commenting would be hypocritical

Thursday, April 17, 2008

James Madison, Hater of Pirates

James Madison, Fourth President of the United States of America would be 257 this year and his positions on foreign policy are seminal in the United States early diplomatic history and the United States first interactions with the Muslim World.

Madison, serving as secretary of state under President Jefferson, advocated waging war against the brutes. In 1801, the U.S. refused to hand over any more money, and battles ensued, according to the Montpelier Foundation, whose mission is to preserve Madison’s legacy. By 1805, the Marines had successfully defeated the pirates and the payoffs ceased.

European nations had entered into treaties with the Barbary States whereby they were at peace, but the European nations paid a yearly tribute to ensure the safe release of any hostages taken. The United States chose to not pay, and sent the first marines to battle the corsairs into submission and to release their hostages in the First Barbary War. In the end, the United States won handily and came to a treaty with the Bashaw of Tripoli that ended the war in exchange for ransoming the hostages. The treaty was a questionable triumph for the Jefferson administration and after the war of 1812 a Second Barbary War that included a coalition of European forces along with the US changed the acceptability of the Corsairs in the Mediterranean.

James Madison's is considered the loudest hawkish voice in Jefferson's cabinet that pushed the young country into this battle. His position eventually led to the downfall of the Corsair empires of North Africa.
Today, "the shores of Tripoli" are immortalized in the U.S. Marine Corps's anthem and in monuments such as the Tripoli Monument at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Pirates in the News! April 16.2008

While the Crew of La Ponant has returned safely to their countries of origin it's time to catch up on pirate news last week:

Eclipsed by news of La Ponant, a different, Australian crew was ransomed last week, the Sea Shepard anti-seal-hunting vessel's

Surrounded by media and shipmates of the seized Farley Mowat anti-sealing vessel, U.S.-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society head Paul Watson described to reporters outside a Sydney courthouse Monday, the similarities between the arrests of two senior crew members and a pirate tale.

“We don’t regard it as bail, we regard it as ransom. It’s a pirate action. They boarded our vessel on the high seas at gunpoint. They stole all of our property, our cameras,” Watson said before unloading a sack filled with $10,000 in Canadian toonies and bills, which he referred as “doubloons” or pirate gold.
The crew of the Farley Mowat face charges under Australia's Federal Fisheries act for approaching a seal-fishing vessel too closely without authorization as well as several individual accounts of obstruction.

The Malacca strait has long been a hotbed of pirate activity, but in the Pirate Whack-a-Mole on the High Seas (thanks you New York Times for the headline, you are truly the paper of record =P), but according to a Malaysian Defense official, there wasn't a single attack in 2007.
"From January to late December 2007, we recorded zero percent pirate attacks in the Malacca Straits and also recorded a reduction in pirate attacks in the waterways of Sabah and Sarawak (on Borneo Island)," Bashirabu Bakar told Bernama news agency.
One can easily see how a major security presence in one area deflects piracy to other, easier to pirate areas, and that's what's happened here. Similarly, it was reported a few months ago that certain areas of the Somalian Coast where joint military efforts have been protecting shipping have led to declines in piracy there.

Of course, International piracy continues with Nigeria and Somalia being the countries where the most attacks occurred according to the International Maritime Bureau.
Nigeria now ranks as the number one hot spot in the world this quarter, overtaking Indonesia for the first time in 16 years, the IMB said.

"Vessels have been fired upon and crew injured as a result. Many of the attacks are concentrated off Lagos," it said.

Indonesia, which fell to third spot, saw just four attacks in the first quarter compared with nine previously.

Of course, If you've been reading this blog, you know that Nigeria isn't taking its new status sitting down, just last week they sent another group of troops to help in the Nimassa area.

Also, I stumbled upon this blog in my piratey travels this week, it's fascinating.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Congratulations Captain Kidd, you're innocent.

As you may remember readers, Captain Kidd's ship was discovered off the Carolina Coast in early December, the ships identity has been confirmed. It has been proven now that Captain Kidd was telling the truth about the specific crime he was hanged for.

So, in this particular case Captain Kidd was innocent. Sure, he did lots of other things that he could have been hung for and that you or I might consider horrible, but this one thing, he was innocent.

Pirate Symbols: The Eye Patch

My mother sent me the stargazer article from The Big Bend Sentinel this last week, and it has a very interesting theory about the Eye-Patch.

While the life of a sailor was one highly likely to lead to the loss of eyes and limbs and many pirates used eye patches for the obvious eye-patching use; Paul Derreck suggests that they may also have been used to help acclimate the eye to darkness below deck.

The below-decks of sailing ships were very dark while the above decks were blindingly bright in contrast:

After being below for a while their eyes would adapt tot he low-light and they could see. But if they were to briefly go topside, the bright light would ruin their dark-adapted eyes, making it difficult to see when they went back below.

So, as the story goes, when going topside they covered one eye with a patch so that eye would still be dark adapted when they went back down.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Fighting Pirates: Things that work

Since the successful negotiation with the pirates holding La Ponant, France is taking the reigns in the political arena in countering piracy. While countries like Indonesia have always managed piracy with the other countries it shares waters with, France is one of the first Western powers in recent years to bring piracy to the forefront in political discourse.

"This is one of the first times a military operation has been conducted in this region against acts of piracy," French Prime Minister Francois Fillon told a news conference during a two-day visit to Tokyo.

"We will ask that under a United Nations mandate, an international force, in which France would naturally be ready to participate, could work to secure the waterways of this region as well in the Malacca Strait (between Malaysia and Indonesia)."

With a perception that piracy is on the upswing despite a drop in attacks in recent years, and the growing availability of commercial endeavors to prevent and counteract piracy, fighting pirates is becoming big business. Coupled with the global War on Terror and Muslim extremism, joint task forces, Governments and Commercial interests are constantly finding ways to protect shipping from piracy, here are some examples from the news of initiatives that seem to be curbing piracy in some areas.

The Jamaica gleaner reports that the government of Guyana plans to fight piracy with GPS:

Authorities in Guyana are installing submersible radios and GPS systems on fishing boats to fight an increase in pirate attacks off the country's southeastern coast.

Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud has urged fishermen to register for the voluntary programme, saying it would help authorities find them in an emergency. He also says the government will soon create a fund to help them replace any stolen equipment, with fishermen contributing an undetermined sum each month.

An ISN report here discusses the future of Maritime Security. Groups such as Blackwater have been capitalizing on the need for maritime security for years.

Warnings of increased pirate activities are always important, but usually, the areas where pirates frequent are as impossible to avoid as they can make them.

According to the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia three vessels have been attacked in the Indian port of Kandla since February.
ReCAAP report
Joint military ventures are currently the most effective method of countering piracy, last week the New York Times reported that the Dutch Navy has thrown its hat into the ring of maritime policing along Somalia's coast.

Distances between Caribbean Islands

Here's an interesting Chart that gives some distances between Caribbean Islands. Think about that next time you watch Pirates of the Caribbean!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Pirates in the News! Special Edition, La Ponant, Part 3

Congratulations to French Government for securing the safe release of all the hostages aboard the yacht, La Ponant.

French Gen. Jean-Louis Georgelin said no public money was used to pay a ransom. But he hinted heavily that the boat's owners did hand over money, and that some was recovered when the pirates were caught. French troops had recovered "interesting bags," he said.

French shipping company CMA-CGM, which owns the operator of the 288-foot Le Ponant, hailed the end of the standoff but released no details about the operation.

The six captured pirates were being held on a French Navy vessel, the president's office said. They "gave themselves up without too much difficulty" and will be handed over to French judicial authorities, Georgelin said.

While we're all glad that the standoff ended expeidiantly and without violence, I think that many of you may be a little dissapointed that there was no action-movie-like showdown. So readers, I give you Action-Star and Frenchman: Jean Claude Van Damme to slake your bloodlust.

The yacht itself is expected to arrive in Djibouti no later than Tuesday of next week.

Pirate Events, San Fransisco

A Floatilla of Sailing Ships inhabited San Fransisco Bay for the past several months, giving schoolchildren a firsthand look at what pirates and sailors of their imaginings actually did.

We teach (the youth) about the history of sailing and the exploration of the West Coast," said Samuel Stanton, educational coordinator and swashbuckling second mate on the Hawaiian Chieftain. "We have them sail the boat, physically set the sails and help turn the boat around. They learn a little bit. They have a lot of fun. It's a great place to have a classroom."

On the ships, students worked with crews wearing sailor garb from the late 1700s and looking a bit like they'd stepped out of a movie.

-From the Mercury News

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Pirates in the News! Special Edition- La Ponant, Part 2

Yesterday French Negotiators spoke to the pirates holding the crew of Le Ponant hostage for the first time. A French representative has assured the press that all the crew are alive and well, well, as well as can be expected.

The tourist yacht's next voyage was expected to ship out in late April and its owners believe that they may be cancelling reservations (oh my goodness! *faint*).

But despite the somewhat mercenary commercial concerns, French and the Ship's Owners are confident of a peaceful resolution to this hostage crisis.

Tales of The High Seas: Modern Piracy

Here are exerpts from two men's tales of being hostages at the hands of modern pirates. Both men were aboard the Switzer-Korsakov when it was boarded and were recently ransomed by the ship's Dutch owner.

69 year old Fred Pearle told the Irish Independant he thought they were all about to die as the pirates attacked.

"I lay there thinking we were all dead meat. I said a few prayers and left it to the man above," he said. Back home in Sligo yesterday, Fred recalled being on watch at 4pm on February 1 when the hellish ordeal began. We were 85 miles off the coast of Somalia, 15 miles beyond the recommended distance and I was heading up to the bridge when I heard someone shouting 'We're being attacked'. "Then I heard someone say 'There's one of them on board'."

70 year old Colin Darch told the Telegraph that:

Someone shouted that they were aboard," said Mr Darch. "They were firing guns. We then shut down the ship. "We were told that if we behaved no one would get hurt, but if we did something wrong, we would be shot." The four Russian crew members were ordered to lie down but Mr Darch and his Irish engineer, Fred Parle, 68, were needed to sail the ship. A day and a half later, Mr Darch was made to anchor close to the village of Eyl."They wanted money and said the tug had been hijacked for ransom," said Mr Darch, who maintained daily contact with the boat's owners, Svitzer, in Copenhagen. "We could see they were not religious or political and they told us they had to rob to survive."

During the 47 day ordeal the two described the conditions they faced:

"I was fair game. I wasn't allowed use my sleeping cabin and it was trashed. My property was stolen. I slept on the steel deck on the bridge but you can get used to anything," he said. Food was scarce and they were never left alone. Daily messages via satellite kept them in touch with life back home. "We depended on each other for survival. We knew we had to have patience. "We got to know each others faults and strengths with danger and destruction as our common bond," he said.

Mr Darch said an American warship intervened at one stage but could not attack in case it hit the crew.He said: "We decided to try and help by blacking out the ship and hiding in a stern compartment behind watertight doors, in the hope the American crew would get the message and attack."We retreated to a ballast tank partly full of water and spent 18 hours in there, but the attack didn't happen. After 19 hours we gave ourselves up.

"They didn't punish us but they kept a much closer eye on us."

Finally, on St. Patrick's Day the two men were ransomed with the other 4 members of their crew and now are finally home.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Pirates in the News! Special Edition- La Ponant

Pirates off the coast of Somalia in the Gulf of Aden captured the three masted, thirty-person crewed yacht Le Ponant last week.
"This is a blatant act of piracy," Prime Minister Francois Fillon told reporters while on a visit to Brussels. "The Defense and Foreign ministries are mobilized to act as quickly as possible, I hope in the coming minutes or hours to try to win the freedom of these hostages."
This Yacht seems awfully fancy to me, and in discussions over the weekend I asked friends what their takes on this attack were. Obviously, in a fantastic world, we'd all love a pirate ship with several restaurants and a level of luxury reserved for the worlds finest hotels, but the general consensus by all was that, this was a dumb move by the pirates. Unlike tugs and other low-profile ships that can be easily ransomed, this high-profile quarry painted a giant bull's-eye on these pirates. And the French, historically, do not mess around (see the Rainbow Warrior, and that was just for messing with their fish).

And the French do not appear to be messing around now.

Sana'a, Yemen/Paris - The French government has deployed a unit of its elite GIGN anti-terrorism and hostage rescue force to Djibouti to prepare an assault if negotiations with Somali pirates holding the crew of a luxury yacht bring no results, French media reported Monday.

The French do not want negotiations to be too prolonged and representatives have made it clear that no matter the result, they refuse to make it generous enough to encourage piracy of French vessels.

Nautical Superstitions

Black Traveling Bags are Bad Luck for a Sailor.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Pirate Links- Squidly

Here's a really entertaining site about searching for a specific sea monster....

I have a soft spot in my heart for these particular creatures, they're creepy, heartless predators, but they're also kinda cute.