10 breeds of pirate – Somalis to Vikings to Japanese Pirate Ninjas

A yacht carrying a quartet of Americans was recently seized by Somali pirates, the latest in a string of hijackings that reaches back millenia. According to MSNBC, the seized yacht, the “S/V Quest,” is owned by Jean and Scott Adam – a couple on a worldwide quest distributing bibles. While they no doubt expected to spread the word far and wide, they were certainly not expecting to be boarded by Somali pirates off the coast of Oman in the Arab sea. The waters along the horn of Africa are a hotbed of piracy, and travelling by boat in this region is about as reckless as booking a 2 week holiday in Mogadishu.

The Somali pirates are the modern day face of an enterprise that has existed for centuries. Piracy has been part of seafaring culture since man first took to the open water. As early as 1400 BC, Lukka sea raiders from Asia Minor began committing acts of piracy throughout the Mediterranean. These early pirates were known simply as the “Sea Peoples.” Aside from these early innovators of seaward sabotage, many groups and clans have sailed under the banner of terror on the high seas. The Vikings innovated the craft, the Barbary corsairs elevated it to an art, and the pirates of the Caribbean made it famous. Many other groups, operating in the shadows of history, took to piracy on the high seas. From dark age plundering to modern day terrorism, some of these groups of pirates include:The Vikings
Hailing from Scandinavia, the Vikings pillaged much of western Europe and northern Africa. The Norsemen covered a range from Russia to Newfoundland in their graceful longships, and pioneered piracy in the middle ages. They were the original world explorers – helmeted plunderers with a thrist for adventure.

The Wokou
Around the same time Vikings were wreaking havoc in Europe, these Japanese pirates, known as Wokou, began terrorizing the Chinese and Korean coast. Most of these pirates were Ronin, merchants, and smugglers. Allegedly, some were even ninjas, throwing a paradoxical spin on the classic “pirate versus ninja” debate. Why choose when you can just be both?

Barbary Corsairs
In response to the moors being ran out of Europe, many took up residence in northern Africa. Some of these displaced seamen became pirates and raided towns and vessels in Spain, Italy, France, and beyond. The infamous Redbeard, Oruc Reis, was a notable Barbary Corsair, and sacked many coastal Italian towns.

Madagascar Pirates
Off the eastern coast of Africa, Madagascar was a lawless place during the golden age of pirateering. Since no European countries colonized Madagascar, the island was an ideal spot for pirates to lay low and plot the next heist. Allegedly, the pirate utopia of “Libertalia” was located on Madagascar. According to pirate lore, “Libertalia” was a communist colony governed by pirates for pirates, where all shared in the booty.

Orang Laut
Originally from the Spice Islands and settling in modern day Malaysia, these sea gypsies began raiding the strait of Malacca over 500 years ago. Eventually, they fell into a protective role, policing the waters for the Sultanates of Johor and Malacca. Unlike many pirates that called solid ground home, the Orang Laut lived exclusively on the water.

Classical Carribean Pirates
The pirate cliche is the Caribbean pirate, and the spokesperson is Johnny Depp’s character in Pirates of the Caribbean. The Caribbean pirate era began when Aztec gold bound for Spain was seized by pirates in the early 16th century. This escalated into the golden age of pirateering in the 17th and 18th centuries. Most Caribbean pirates came from European origins.

Bugi Pirates of Sulawesi
The term boogeyman originated from the orchid shaped island of Sulawesi in Indonesia. The Bugi pirates of southern Sulawesi were so feared that Dutch and English sailors brought home tales of horror to scare misbehaving children. The Bugianese were among the first to explore Papua New Guinea and northern Australia.

Sea Dayak of Borneo
Notorious headhunters, the sea dayaks terrorized the waters of the South China Sea, targeting vessels passing from Hong Kong to Singapore. In the mid nineteenth century, James Brooke and an army of Malays wiped out many of these pirates. Today, these people are known as the Iban and live in the old rainforests of Borneo.

Chinese Pirates
The most powerful pirate ever was a Chinese woman. In the early 19th century, an ex-prostitute named Cheng I Sao commanded a fleet of more than 1,500 ships – larger than many navies. According to CNN, she was an adept business person and controlled her fleet via a proxy named Chang Pao. She developed spy networks, created economic agreements with mainland farmers for supplies, and generally revolutionized the piracy business model. Her crews stalked the waters of the South China Sea.

Somali Pirates
The modern pirate hails from Somalia – a crossroads of the derelict. With more warlords than laws, Somalia is a disaster state. The government has been more a fleeting idea than a real thing for the last 20 years, and it shows. Warlords control fleets that operate out of coastal towns, amassing ships, arms, and wealth. The pirates use small boats and assault rifles to board both passenger and cargo ships, taking hostages, booty, or both.

Piracy causes roughly $15 billion in losses worldwide per year. The most trafficked areas for modern day piracy include the South China Sea, the Gulf of Aden (off the horn of Africa), the Niger Delta, and the infamous Strait of Malacca.

flickr image via cesargp

Gun-toting Mexican “pirates” shoot to kill on border lake

One man is presumed dead, and his wife was able to get away. The couple was jetskiing on the Falcon Lake reservoir. They crossed to the Mexican side of the water, according to Zapata county Sheriff Sigfredo Gonzalez, where they came under fire. The shooters are believed to be “Mexican drug operatives,” the San Antonio Express-News reports. Two “boatloads” of men unleashed a torrent of bullets, shooting the husband in the head.

The San Antonio Express-News continues: “They saw them approaching and started revving it up back to the U.S. side,” Gonzalez told the Associated Press. “The guys just started shooting at them from behind.”

This isn’t the only instance of “piracy” along the border recently. Back in May, two boaters were said to have been “shaken down” on the Mexican side of the water. And, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety, there were other incidents, as well. The DPS has issued a warning about crossing the border to the Mexican side of the lake.

[Via Gawker, photo by Ack Ook via Flickr]

AlterNet condoning pirates in Somalia?

AlterNet.org, a human rights advocacy site, has a new article posted: “Why We Don’t Condemn Our Pirates in Somalia.”

First of all, I want to know who gave them the pirates in Somalia. Well, turns out the article is from a Somali perspective, and that “Karma” is the reason they feel they are “biting a perpetrator in the butt.”

Everyone knows that piracy in Somalia is serious business. And like most serious businesses, it’s complicated. Consider our Aaron Hotfelder’s article “Somali pirate talks: ‘We consider ourselves heroes running away from poverty,’” in which pirate Asad Abdulahi told his story, saying “we will not stop until we have a central government that can control our sea.”

AlterNet goes even further. In the words of K’naan, AlterNet’s Somali-Canadian poet, rapper, and musician:

“It is time that the world gave the Somali people some assurance that these Western illegal activities will end, if our pirates are to seize their operations. We do not want the EU and NATO serving as a shield for these nuclear waste-dumping hoodlums. It seems to me that this new modern crisis is a question of justice, but also a question of whose justice. As is apparent these days, one man’s pirate is another man’s coast guard.”

Read more here before you judge. Thanks, Michael S., for the tip.

China mall opens fake Starbucks, McDonald’s and Pizza Hut

In addition to being a complex, beautiful and rapidly changing country, we’ve all heard that China is a copyright lawyer’s worst nightmare. A place rife with pirated DVD’s, software and all manner of luxury clothing and handbag knockoffs. It seems that pirated goods have become such a lucrative industry that the country is now dedicating an entire mall to the concept.

According to recent news reports, a mall in Nanjing, China is set to open with all manner of “copycat” stores, sporting awnings with none-too-subtle reinterpretations of well-known Western brands. If you’re looking for your morning pick-me-up, go no further than “Bucksstar” coffee, the place for all your $5 latte needs in Nanjing. When you get hungry, mall visitors can patronize the local “OMC McDnoald’s” or even grab some “Pizza Huh.” Perhaps the pizza chain name is in reference to the quality of the ingredients?

When I first stumbled upon this article, I actually did a half-spit take. Could this be legit, I thought? Yet in a country with a rapidly emerging consumer class and growing lust for fancy French wine and gated communities, it starts to make more sense. For many individuals, owning and consuming brands legitimizes their place in the world, announcing their ascension to the modern global economy. The creators of this mall in Nanjing seem to have come to a similar conclusion – even a knockoff of the real thing, no matter how awkward and blatant to Western eyes, is better than no brands at all.

[Via Buzzfeed]

The Pirate Life on Somalia’s Coast

The BBC recently ran a feature about the pirates who have been terrorizing ships off Somalia’s coastline. These pirates make their money by capturing ships of all sorts, from cruise ships to freighters, and demanding a ransom. Are these guys modern day eye-patch-wearing rum-lovers? According to BBC reporter Robyn Hunter, they are ambitious young men who have found a niche and are exploiting it to ensure that they live the good life in a troubled country where half of the population relies on foreign food aid to survive.

A resident of Puntland, the semi-autonomous coastal area from which the pirates operate, gave Hunter the lowdown on the attraction of the pirate life:

“They have money; they have power and they are getting stronger by the day…They wed the most beautiful girls; they are building big houses; they have new cars; new guns…Piracy in many ways is socially acceptable. They have become fashionable.”

But the heyday for these cowboys of the Gulf of Aden may be coming to an end. Shipping companies are planning on hiring security contractors to guard ships passing through the area. That will significantly lessen the chance of pirates being able to take a ship and its crew hostage without a fight. It is doubtful though, that the presence of a few armed contractors will lessen the lure of the easy money of the pirate life.