Last Updated 13 Feb 2021

Pirates: Piracy and Golden Age

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Golden Age Pirates vs. Modern Day Pirates Piracy has been around before the time of the pyramids. Once merchant ship began to deliver goods to other countries, others realized the financial gain that could be made by stealing those goods and selling them themselves. Pirates have ruled the seas at different times. Once Europeans settled in the American colonies, pirates plundered towns along the coast and attacked almost every ship they came in contact with. During the 18th century, wars gave rise to privateering; a legal form of piracy.

But, after the War of 1812, this was no longer tolerated. Government put an end to most piracy but, today there are still pirates. By comparing the pirates of the Golden Age with the pirates we have today, we can gain knowledge of how piracy has evolved and changed. Execution was and still is an honored method of dealing with pirates. Merchant ships have always found themselves victim to pirates. In November 1998, pirates hijacked a ship off the Chinese coast. Its name was the Cheung Son. After binding and gagging all the crew members, the pirates killed them and threw their bodies overboard.

This ship and its cargo were never seen again. Police eventually discovered pictures of pirates celebrating onboard the Cheung Son. They arrested all thirty-eight pirates. A court found all guilty. Thirteen were sentenced to death, one to life in prison, and the rest were sentenced to twelve years. During the Golden Age, many pirates were hung or executed in some way. After Captain William Kid was hung, his body was tarred and placed in an iron cage. The government put it on display as a warning to other pirates. Likewise, another pirate, named Edward Teach, had his decapitated head put on display as a warning also.

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Punishment was and is a rarity for pirates. Often, pirates escape with their “treasure”. Golden Age pirates and Modern day pirates share three requirements to flourish. Both need a place to sail where the rewards are substantial. During the Golden Age, the only way to transport goods was by ship. This gave pirates access to an unlimited amount of goods and treasures. Today, small high-speed vessels can easily catch up to larger vessels. The plunder is equally rewarding, but easier to convert into cash. Both generations of pirates need hunting grounds where the risk of detection is small.

Golden Age pirates patrolled near Africa, the American and European coast, and as far north as the Caribbean. Today’s pirates thrive off the coasts of Africa and South China. Finally, they both need a safe haven. Port Royal offered a safe place for Golden Age pirates to stay. Many of Indonesia’s islands provide a safe haven for today’s pirates. Weaponry and Technology are very different today than three hundred years ago. Swords and muskets were the weapons of choice for Golden Age pirates. Today, pirates wield automatic rifles and modern communication technology.

Past pirates used wooden ships with large crews and used cannons to defend their ships. Today’s pirates used small fast boats with small crews. Golden Age pirates attacked any ship that crossed their path, “crime of opportunity”. Today’s pirates plan their attacks and select victims before they even leave shore. “The truth is that modern piracy is a violent, bloody, ruthless practice… made the more fearsome by the knowledge on the part of the victims that they are on their own and absolutely defenseless and that no help is waiting round the corner” Captain Jayant Abhyankar, Deputy Director of the International Maritime Bureau 1999.

This statement still held true during the Golden Age. Efforts to end piracy began during ancient times. This Island of Rhodes was the first to include piracy in their maritime laws. In the Golden Age almost every nation had established maritime laws. Sir Charles Hedges, a judge of the British Admiralty Court during the late 1600’s, says “pirates are thieves who seize a ship and/or its cargo through violent means upon the sea”. Despite many legal attempts to stop piracy an international definition of piracy did not exist till 1958.

Article 15, 1958 Geneva Convention of the High Seas and Article 101, 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea defines piracy as “a violent seizure on the high seas of a private ship or the illegal detainment of persons property aboard said ship for the purpose of private gain, nor can a government commit an act of piracy”. Piracy in the Golden Age devastated the trade economy. Hundreds of ships carrying numerous amounts of goods were plundered. Today, piracy hardly dents the two trillion dollar a year shipping industry. In 1997 losses amounted to “$. 32 for every $10,000” J.

Gottschalk. This leaves little financial incentive for companies to deal with the problem. Violence was and is still very common amongst pirates. No one knows for sure show many people were murdered by Golden Age Pirates but, its number was staggering. Modern day pirates have left a dent themselves. During a five year period the UN High Commissioner said that an estimated 2,283 women were raped and 592 people were kidnaped. This was in Vietnamese alone. In 2000 there were 182 ships that were attacked. Almost half were in the South China Seas according to the Worldwide Maritime Piracy.

Captain Abhyankar wrote in An overview of Piracy Problems; “A total of 202 incidents were reported in 1998. The majority of these attacks were violent. At least 79 persons have been killed and 35 injured during piracy”. Clearly piracy is still a problem. Piracy is as much of a problem today as it was years ago. Pirates of the golden age and pirates of today are more similar than not, but, they do have differences. We have seen that pirates need three common requirements to thrive and their differences in weapons and technology.

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