Seagoing pirates have pillaged and plundered ships and coastal villages throughout history — from Vikings to 14th and 15th century ships owned by the Kings and Queens of Spain, England, Holland and France to 17th and 18th century raiders who pillaged Spanish galleons. Today, a series of attacks off the Horn of Africa has shown that piracy can still be highly profitable as well as dangerous.
In Somalia, a country of grinding poverty and internal chaos, the pirate economy is an extension of the corrupt free-for-all that has raged on land since the central government imploded in 1991.
It has turned the waters off of Africa into the most dangerous shipping lanes in the world.
Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government, the internationally recognized but relatively impotent authority based in the capital, Mogadishu, has little influence over the pirates. Neither do the traditional, clan-based militias that still operate in these areas but cannot afford the weaponry or manpower now fielded by well-financed pirate gangs.
The United States Navy has asked ship owners to stick to designated shipping lanes when passing through the Arabian Sea, where in the past few years, Somali pirates have hijacked hundreds of ships from a sailboat skippered by a retired British couple and rusty fishing trawlers to a 1,000-foot-long supertanker owned by the Saudi government. The pirates have netted hundreds of millions of dollars from the hijackings, money that they often reinvest in weapons and men. They have attacked ships as far away as Sri Lanka, more than 2,000 miles from home.
On October 23, 2009, a British couple was slowly edging away in their boat from Mahé, the main island in the Seychelles archipelago, for Tanga, Tanzania, the beginning of a two-week passage across the Indian Ocean. The wind was pushing them farther north than they’d planned to be. With no ships or land in sight, the Chandlers’ 38-foot sailboat, the Lynn Rival. Two skiffs materialized out of the murk, and when 57-year-old Rachel Chandler swung the flashlight’s beam onto the water, two gunshots rang out. Within seconds, eight scruffy Somali men hoisted themselves aboard, their assault rifles and rocket-propelled-grenade launchers clanging against the hull. 61-year-old Paul Chandler activated an emergency beacon, which immediately started emitting an S.O.S., and then went up on deck. The men stank of the sea and nervous musk, and they jabbed their guns at the Chandlers. The Chandlers would be held for the next 388 days. In the past few years, loosely organized gangs of Somali pirates, kitted out with Fiberglas skiffs, rusty Kalashnikovs and flip-flops, have waylaid hundreds of ships — yachts, fishing boats, freighters, gigantic oil tankers, creaky old Indian dhows, essentially anything that floats — and then extracted ransom in exchange for their return.
One has to love the British pluck . . . after the Chandlers were released, they continued their around-the-world sea journey and, of course, wrote their story: Hostage: A Year at Gunpoint with Somali Pirates and the New York Times Wesley Allsbrook illustrated Taken by Pirates for the October 2011 issue of the NYT Magazine.
The New York Times of October 2012 reported that the standard operating procedure is to swarm a vessel with a bevy of skiffs, each packed with armed men, gain control of the ship, steer it back to a pirate base and then demand a ransom from the ship’s owner, the families of the crew or both. Often the ransom money literally falls from the sky. The favored way of making payment is to drop a brick of shrink-wrapped cash from a small plane and let it drift down by parachute to the pirates.
Now, a report from Maritime Propulsion,” January 9, 2013:
Somali Pirates Use RPG to Attack Ship: 12 Arrested
EU Naval Force French Frigate ‘Surcouf’ and NATO Warship ‘USS Halyburton’ work together to apprehend twelve pirate suspects.
A merchant vessel sailing 260 miles off the Somali Coast in the Horn of Africa, made a distress call, reporting that she was coming under attack by six men in a fast moving boat, armed with rocket propelled grenades (RPG). Thankfully, having employed avoidance tactics, the merchant vessel was able to escape the attack.
Upon hearing the distress call, NATO warship USS Halyburton, operating as part of NATO’s counter piracy operation – Ocean Shield, on patrol 80 nautical miles away, launched her helicopter and was able to quickly locate a suspect boat – which was by now towing another vessel, with several men on board. (In October 2013, Captain Phillips, the movie starring Tom Hanks depicting this operation was released.)
EU Naval Force (EU Navfor) French Frigate Surcouf, operating as part of the EU’s counter piracy mission – Operation Atalanta, made best speed to the area, as a German EU Navfor Maritime Patrol Aircraft kept watch overhead.
Upon arrival, and in full cooperation with the NATO warship, the boarding team from Surcouf boarded the two suspect vessels and apprehended twelve men in total. All twelve men are currently being held on board for evidence collection in order to fully assess the possibility of legal prosecution.
In a recent press conference held on board Surcouf during her port visit to Port Victoria, Seychelles, the Commanding Officer, Commander Hugues Lainé stressed the importance of not lowering the guard towards piracy, as the threat remains, despite the drop in pirate attacks during the past year.
November 8, 1896
Los Angeles Herald
Los Angeles, California
A NATION OF PIRATES
Most Notorious Thieves in the World’s History
WILD, BARBAROUS PEOPLE
The Rifs Have Plundered Vessels for Centuries
France Has Determined to Wipe Them Out and Incidentally Change the Map of Africa.
It is generally supposed that pirates no longer exist, except in the lurid litertaure sold to small boys. This is a mistake. France has just fitted out three warships for the purpose of wiping out a nation of pirates, and Spain stands ready to help France, if any help be needed.
The pirates are the Rifs of Morocco.
Long before the dawn of the Christian era these people were pirates, and they are just as much in the business today as ever. Century after century they have plundered on sea and on laud, and none of the great powers have been ambitious to declare war upon them and bring them to terms. This is all the more strange for the reason that the great modern guns of the English, mounted on the rock of Gibraltar, could almost throw a projectile across the strait and into the country inhabited by the pirates. Rlf means “the coast” ln the native language, and while the Rifflans are nominally the subjects of the sultan of Morocco, he has as much control over them as he has over the Indians of Alaska. All of the resources of Moorish ferocity, cruelty, craft and power have been employed to bring the Riffian to. terms, but without success.
The sultan of Morocco if not a peaceful gentleman, by any means, and deeds of gross inhumanity are of common occurrence with him, but he is not the equal of the Rlf pirate in these matters. The ltif country is not extensive, being but fifty-eight mill s wide and 210 miles in length, but if the sultan could control it, it would yield rich returns to his tax-gatherers. Moreover. It could be made of immense commercial value, as it includes all of that part of Morocco fronting upon the Mediterranean sea, running from the city of Centa, which is directly opiinsHe-ftiiMa-ltar, to the boundary line ‘Hvfaing Algeria and Morocco.
FRANCE’S OPPORTUNITY WITH THE RIFS
A few weeks ago a swarm of Rif pirates in their peculiar little boats called feluccas sailed out to the French ship Corinte. overpowered the crew and plundered her. While they were at work the Spanish steamship Sevilla came to the rescues of the Frenchmen, but the pirates swarmed up on the decks of the Seviila, killed five men, gathered up a lot of booty and then disappeared.
When the news of this outrageous act reached the French people they were angry, but the statesman of France were mightily pleased. The outrage has given them an excuse for descending upon the Rif country, conquering it t and adding it to their already large possessions in Algeria.
There would be no use appealing to the sultan of Morocco for redress, for, as has been stated, he is powerless to punish the niftians. He could be made to pay immense damages for the depredations of his nominal subjects, but France prefers to seek her own vengeance and collect her own damages.
These latter will probaly take the form of the whole Rif country, and, if accomplished, it will be the first step on tha part of a European power to break into the territory of the sultanate of Morocco.
Morocco is classed with other small portions of Africa under the sinister head of “unappropriated.” But if the plans of the French succeed this will have to be changed, as well as the map of Africa. If the sultan of Morocco should show fight against the French he would be in danger of losing the whole of his kingdom, as other European nations would not be likely to interfere in his behalf while France and Russia are so closely attached.
RIFS: AN UNKNOWN PEOPLE
Not the least curious thing about the Riffians is that nothing, or comparatively nothing is know about them, although their country is nearer to southern Europe than any other in northern Africa. The reason of this is their barbarous cruelty and hostility to all strangers. The most venturesome tourists never travel into their territory, as such a venture would be certain death. Two or three men by disguising themselves as Moors have within the past twenty years succeeded in making some investigations of the country, but nothing of a certain and extensive character has been gleaned. It is estimated that the population of the Rif country is about 105,000. They are not Moors, but come of Berber or aboriginal stock. They are Mohammedans, but they would murder one of their own religious belief as soon as they would kill a Christian. They are divided Into countless little tribes, and when they have nothing better to do fight among themselves. But on a threatened invasion by the regular forces of the sultan they flock together and present a united front to the enemy.
HAVE MODERN GUNS
The Rifs are well armed and know how to use the modern munitions of war with considerable skill. Within the past year they have plundered about a dozen vessels, and the crews of these have reported that the pirates had rifles of recent make. They wear body sashes holding many knives and pistols, and in boarding vessels always use short swords or daggers in preference to firearms. The last venturesome explorer who succeeded in getting a partial glimpse of the Rif country was an Englishman named Harris. Disguised as a Moorish trader, with his arms and legs stained a deep brown, he managed to avoid detection for some months. He spoke Arabic fairly well, but demed it wiser to pose as a deaf mute. He was accompanied by an Arab boy who did all the talking, and who proved a valuable assistant. This trip was made in 1888.
This explorer found that the Lesser Atlas mountains, which run along the Rlf country parallel with the coast, were splendidly fortified with cannon. Every Rif native is something of a blacksmith and armorer, understanding how to mold bullets, make powder and to repair guns. They buy their guns by making secret Journeys to Algerian and Spanish ports, and it is believed that they exchange their plunder with certain traders for whatever they need. Moorish customs officers have endeavored to break up the traffic and thereby cripple the Rifflans, but the latter worsted them so badly that of late years they have done as they pleased. It remains to be seen what the French will do with them. A French cruiser has been ordered from Toulon to the Rif coast, and Admiral Gervals, commander of the Mediterranean squadron, has, under orders from Paris, sent the cruiser Troude and the dispatch boat D’lbervllle to the scene of what promises to be a bloody conflict
Africa Political Map.