Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Several days ago, a Ukrainian freighter bound for Kenya was hijacked by modern-day sea pirates.

The latest criminal exploit of these thugs has now made front-page news. There is nothing romantic or movie-like about these sea-going terrorists.

Consider this. At sea, the dynamics of a group change. No longer does the group feel subjected to the rule of law. Instead real and perceived authority switch to the officers in command. The captain, the head honcho, is the ultimate authority. He can put offenders in the brig (jail). Or he can marry a couple.

Once pirates capture a boat, they become the authorities. Can you imagine how absolute their power becomes at that moment?

Curious, I did some Internet research about piracy and learned several interesting facts.


The present US Navy came into being in order to fight the pirates operating in what was then called the Barbary Coast. There was a Continental Navy that was established during the American War of Independence against the Kingdom of Great Britain but it was disbanded after the US won its independence.

The US Congress passed the Naval Act of 1794 that formally created the present US Navy. It consisted of six frigates—one of which is still an active commissioned ship of today’s navy, the USS Constitution.

This is a photo of the USS Howard, the first US Navy ship that responded to the hijacking.

The US Navy fought two Barbary Wars. The first one—from 1801 to 1805—ended after the pirates seemed soundly defeated. The second one, in 1815, finally defeated the Barbary pirates for good. The US from the early 1790s had been paying tribute to the pirates—a tax, if you will—and it stopped doing so after 1815. The US paid taxes to pirates for nearly 25 years!

The Barbary wars also created the fighting reputation of the US Marine Corps.


The nickname for the US Marines, “leathernecks,” originated from the battles that the marines fought against the pirates. To protect their necks, the marines wore uniforms that had a high and stiff leather collar. This collar was meant to protect their necks from cutlass blows delivered by the pirates in the one-on-one combat between the marines and the pirates.

The opening verse of the well-known Marines Hymn—From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli—makes reference to the First Barbary War.

Without words

Tripoli, the capital of Libya, is one of the modern-day nations that comprise the Barbary Coast. The other countries are Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia.

With words

THE CURRENT SITUATION (as of 0700 GMT, September 30, 2008)

Returning to the ongoing story, the Somalian pirates happened to seize a cargo ship that was carrying 33 Russian T-72 tanks and (literally) a boatload of ammunition.

This is another photo of the USS Howard.

The latest—from BBC News—states that the US Navy has surrounded the hijacked ship. Furthermore, reports now indicate that despite the Kenyan government’s claim, the ship was bound for Sudan. A Russian warship is part of the flotilla guarding the hijacked Ukrainian freighter.

What drama on the high seas…

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