Pirates of Barbary: Corsairs, Conquests and Captivity in the Seventeenth-Century Mediterranean

Henrik Bering on Pirates of Barbary: Corsairs, Conquests and Captivity in the Seventeenth-Century Mediterranean by Adrian Tinniswood.

As career officers will tell you, drive, determination, and a willingness to try something new are the key requirements in a competitive world. This lesson has certainly been taken to heart by the Somali fishermen who, armed with Kalashnikovs and rpgs, have made a career switch to piracy. Starting out modestly around 2005, they are no longer content just to use small craft operating from the coast, but now employ mother ships which range as far from their home waters as the Seychelles.

In 2008, they captured a Ukrainian ship, the MV Faina, loaded with tanks and antiaircraft guns, which brought in a $3.2 million ransom. Soon after came the supertanker, the Sirius Star, which netted them $3 million. And one of President Obama’s early actions in office in April 2009 was to order Navy Seals to kill three pirates who were holding hostage the captain of cargo ship Maersk Alabama in one of its lifeboats. Ironically, the ship was carrying relief supplies for Somalia.

In 2009, there were 217 pirate attacks, resulting in 47 captured ships and 867 captured crewmembers. The ransom business amounts to around $100 million a year.

On shore, a stock exchange operates where investors can put up the money for future operations. Backers abroad help designate what ships to attack, assess the value of the cargo, and supply the pirates’ destination and course. The pirates also have access to sophisticated equipment. To check the genuineness of the air-dropped ransom money, they have counting machines of the same type used by Western banks.

As a result of their activities, insurance premiums have shot up. Many shipping companies avoid the Suez Canal and now send their vessels around the Horn of Africa, which adds to fuel costs. Others hire private security firms to go with their ships. A multinational force patrols the Gulf of Aden. But on several occasions, when patrol ships have captured pirates, they have had to release them again because no one wants to prosecute them, as they are likely to be stuck with them, once they have served their time (Somalia is regarded as too dangerous a place to which to repatriate them). This, in the words of Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, “sends the wrong signal.” As a result of American pressure, in the first piracy case to come to trial in Europe, a Dutch court in June sentenced five Somali pirates to five years in jail, which shipping analysts see as unlikely to deter future attacks. Predictably, the pirates have asked for asylum and to have their families sent over upon their release. More sensible efforts to set up regional courts to prosecute captured pirates are ongoing.


the monochrom blog - archive of everything