Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Okay, so he's a gay blade

Rico says that would be John Galliano, the now-fired designer for Dior. But, man, does he make a great pirate or what?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Still doing the argghhh thing

Captain Hornigold is still indisposed, due to a major head injury suffered in the Cavernous Angiomas, a small chain near the Pontines, but he continues the good fight. He has acquired a parrot (one that is, just like in the Monty Python skit below, 'deceased') to go with the splendid outfit provided for him by his Anglo-Irish shipmate Kelley. Look for him, come Talk Like a Pirate Day and Halloween...

Friday, September 4, 2009

Killing pirates, using an Exacto knife (okay, rifle)

Courtesy of my friend Kelley, this article by Mark Thompson about the latest anti-piracy efforts:
The U.S. military plans to deploy its newest warplane against one of the world's oldest threats, sending unmanned Reaper drones to the Seychelles islands to deal with pirates menacing seagoing commerce in the Indian Ocean. Fighting pirates off the coast of Africa was one of the founding missions of the U.S. Marines two centuries ago; today, in a sign of the changing face of warfare, the mission of protecting maritime trade routes falls to ground-bound desk jockeys remotely operating high-tech flying machines.
"The Seychelles have been increasingly concerned about piracy in their waters," says Vince Crawley, a spokesman for U.S. Africa Command, explaining next month's Ocean Look deployment. Although the military won't say how many of the drones are being sent, Crawley says there will be enough to have one flying every day from the archipelago of more than 100 islands that lie nearly 1,000 miles off Africa's east coast. About 75 U.S. personnel are bound for the Seychelles' Mahe regional airport to support the mission, which is expected to last several months.
The prime source of piracy in the area is the failed state of Somalia. There have been more than 135 pirate attacks originating from the Somali coast so far this year— more than the total number for 2008— and 28 vessels have been successfully commandeered. While the annual monsoon season has recently reduced the number of attacks, observers fear that the peril will rise again with the calming of the weather. The Seychelles legislature recently approved a pact with the U.S. allowing closer military cooperation. "Our isolated geographic position and our limited economic and military resources will never allow us to patrol our vast territorial waters," a Seychelles lawmaker said during the July debate on the measure. Piracy has become "one of the most well-organized and profitable crimes in this part of the world," she added, and "foreign military help in patrol and surveillance of our waters is today a necessity."
The drone flights will complement patrols by naval vessels from NATO member states and other allied countries, as well as by a pair of patrol planes being dispatched by the European Union to the Seychelles. The coast guard of the Seychelles will also deploy two vessels on alternate week-long cruises to deter pirates. About sixty French marines are aboard ten French tuna-fishing boats off the Seychelles, with plans to stay there through the end of the fishing season in October.
It's not firepower, but endurance, that is needed to prevail over pirates. Ships can survey only a tiny swath of the sea, and previous ship-launched drones and land-based manned aircraft lack the Reaper's capacity to remain aloft for up to fourteen hours. The drone's 66-foot wingspan can launch the five-ton aircraft on missions covering more than 3,000 miles. "This makes it an ideal platform for observing the vast ocean and maritime corridors in the Indian Ocean region and assisting in counter-piracy efforts," Crawley says.
Outfitted with a variety of cameras and other sensors to detect suspected pirates, the drone is controlled from the ground via satellite links. While the MQ-9 Reaper can carry a variety of bombs and missiles, those flying out of the Seychelles won't be armed. "We're just following the conventions of international law," Crawley says. "If you have a suspected vessel, you board it and investigate it" instead of blowing it up.
The Reaper, with its unblinking eye, could help capture pirates who, too often, have been able to slip away. Last month, for example, a band of Somali marauders freed a 20,000-ton German cargo ship after seizing it and its crew in April between the Seychelles and Kenya. The pirates managed to escape even though a German frigate, lurking nearby, arrived on the scene within twelve minutes of the pirates' departure from the cargo vessel, along with a $2.7 million ransom. "The pirates took all the belongings of the 24 crew members, including toothbrushes," Torsten Ites, captain of the frigate Brandenburg, told Agence France Press. "We had to provide medical assistance to the crew members, including dental services as they had stayed for some time without brushing their teeth." Each Reaper deployed in the Seychelles may be the equivalent of $12 million worth of dental insurance for sailors plying the sea routes off the Horn of Africa. also has this article by Ishan Thardoor:
Amid the current media frenzy about Somali pirates, it's hard not to imagine them as characters in some dystopian Horn of Africa version of Waterworld. We see wily corsairs in ragged clothing swarming out of their elusive mother ships, chewing narcotic khat while thumbing GPS phones and grappling hooks. They are not desperate bandits, experts say, rather savvy opportunists in the most lawless corner of the planet. But the pirates have never been the only ones exploiting the vulnerabilities of this troubled failed state and are, in part, a product of the rest of the world's neglect.
Ever since a civil war brought down Somalia's last functional government in 1991, the country's 3,330 km (2,000 miles) of coastline— the longest in continental Africa— has been pillaged by foreign vessels. A United Nations report in 2006 said that, in the absence of the country's at one time serviceable coastguard, Somali waters have become the site of an international "free for all," with fishing fleets from around the world illegally plundering Somali stocks and freezing out the country's own rudimentarily-equipped fishermen. According to another U.N. report, an estimated $300 million worth of seafood is stolen from the country's coastline each year. "In any context," says Gustavo Carvalho, a London-based researcher with Global Witness, an environmental NGO, "that is a staggering sum."
In the face of this, impoverished Somalis living by the sea have been forced over the years to defend their own fishing expeditions out of ports such as Eyl, Kismayo, and Harardhere— all now considered to be pirate dens. Somali fishermen, whose industry was always small-scale, lacked the advanced boats and technologies of their interloping competitors, and also complained of being shot at by foreign fishermen with water cannons and firearms. "The first pirate gangs emerged in the '90s to protect against foreign trawlers," says Peter Lehr, lecturer in terrorism studies at Scotland's University of St. Andrews and editor of Violence at Sea: Piracy in the Age of Global Terrorism. The names of existing pirate fleets, such as the National Volunteer Coastguard of Somalia or Somali Marines, are testament to the pirates' initial motivations.
The waters they sought to protect, says Lehr, were "an El Dorado for fishing fleets of many nations". A 2006 study published in the journal Science predicted that the current rate of commercial fishing would virtually empty the world's oceanic stocks by 2050. Yet, Somalia's seas still offer a particularly fertile patch for tuna, sardines, mackerel, and other lucrative species of seafood, including lobsters and sharks. In other parts of the Indian Ocean region, such as the Persian Gulf, fishermen resort to dynamite and other extreme measures to pull in the kinds of catches that are still in abundance off the Horn of Africa.
High-seas trawlers from countries as far flung as South Korea, Japan, and Spain have operated down the Somali coast, often illegally and without licenses, for the better part of two decades, the U.N. says. They often fly flags of convenience from sea-faring friendly nations like Belize and Bahrain, which further helps the ships skirt international regulations and evade censure from their home countries. Tsuma Charo of the Nairobi-based East African Seafarers Assistance Programme, which monitors Somali pirate attacks and liaises with the hostage takers and the captured crews, says "illegal trawling has fed the piracy problem". In the early days of Somali piracy, those who seized trawlers without licenses could count on a quick ransom payment, since the boat owners and companies backing those vessels didn't want to draw attention to their violation of international maritime law. This, Charo reckons, allowed the pirates to build up their tactical networks and whetted their appetite for bigger spoils.
Beyond illegal fishing, foreign ships have also long been accused by local fishermen of dumping toxic and nuclear waste off Somalia's shores. A 2005 United Nations Environmental Program report cited uranium radioactive and other hazardous deposits leading to a rash of respiratory ailments and skin diseases breaking out in villages along the Somali coast. According to the U.N., at the time of the report, it cost $2.50 per ton for a European company to dump these types of materials off the Horn of Africa, as opposed to $250 per ton to dispose of them cleanly in Europe.
Monitoring and combating any of these misdeeds is next to impossible— Somalia's current government can barely find its feet in the wake of the 2006 U.S.-backed Ethiopian invasion. And many Somalis, along with outside observers, suspect local officials in Mogadishu and in ports in semi-autonomous Puntland further north of accepting bribes from foreign fishermen as well as from pirate elders. U.N. monitors in 2005 and 2006 suggested an embargo on fish taken from Somali waters, but their proposals were shot down by members of the Security Council. (See photos of dramatic pirate rescues.)
In the meantime, Somali piracy has metastasized into the country's only boom industry. Most of the pirates, observers say, are not former fishermen, but just poor folk seeking their fortune. Right now, they hold eighteen cargo ships and some 300 sailors hostage— the work of a sophisticated and well-funded operation. A few pirates have offered testimony to the international press— a headline in Thursday's Times of London read, "They stole our lobsters: A Somali pirate tells his side of the story"— but Lehr and other Somali experts express their doubts. "Nowadays," Lehr says, "this sort of thing is just a cheap excuse." The legacy of nearly twenty years of inaction and abuse, though, is far more costly. also has this article, A Brief History of Pirates, by Alex Altman:
They pursue their prey using outboard motors instead of oars, and tote rocket-propelled grenades instead of cutlasses. But like their peg-legged predecessors, the pirates of today's headlines— most recently those who hijacked a Japanese cargo ship off the Somali coast on July 20— are economic opportunists exploiting the largely unpatrolled waterways through which 90% of global trade flows.
Pirates have plagued seafarers for millenniums. Homer and Cicero noted incidents involving ancient Greek and Roman mariners, and West Europeans weathered Viking onslaughts during the Middle Ages. In the 16th and 17th centuries, monarchs frustrated by Spain's dominance of the Caribbean commissioned privateers to harass the Spanish fleet, helping to usher in piracy's golden age, when swashbuckling marauders like Blackbeard (Edward Teach) roamed the sun-splashed islands, plundering gold and silver.
Piracy declined in subsequent centuries, thanks to increasingly vigilant militaries and the development of the steam engine. But amid a drop in naval patrols and a boom in international trade following the end of the cold war, it has flourished anew— particularly in narrow choke points such as Asia's Strait of Malacca and the Gulf of Aden, which links the Red and Arabian seas. Buoyed by fast boats, fearsome weaponry and high-tech communications gear, pirates carried off 263 reported heists in 2007— 28% of which occurred in the lawless waters off Nigeria and Somalia. With its vast coastline and crippled government, Somalia is especially pirate-infested. Despite a June U.N. resolution that lets naval allies surveil its waters, ships are warned to stay two hundred nautical miles from land. also has this article, Pirates Beware, also by Mark Thompson:
The three Navy SEAL snipers who killed the pirates off the coast of Somalia last weekend were lucky the buccaneers were gullible enough to allow their lifeboat to be towed farther out to sea by the USS Bainbridge. The shortened towline turned what could have been a trio of difficult shots across hundreds of yards of ocean into relatively easy thirty-yard pops. It's a safe bet future pirates won't be so naive. But the Pentagon is drawing up a project to make it easier to hit targets at much longer distances: a super-sniper rifle called the EXACTO, short for EXtreme ACcuracy Tasked Ordnance.
The highly-classified EXACTO program began a year ago, when the U.S. military's band of scientists and engineers at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)— which played a key role in the creation of both the Internet and GPS— let the military-industrial complex know it was seeking a supergun. "The ability to more accurately prosecute targets at significantly longer range would provide a dramatic new capability to the U.S. military," DARPA'S solicitation for bids said. "The use of an actively controlled bullet will make it possible to counter environmental effects such as crosswinds and air density, and prosecute both stationary and moving targets while enhancing shooter covertness."
The new .50 caliber gun and improved scope could employ "fire and forget" technologies including "fin-stabilized projectiles, spin-stabilized projectiles, internal and/or external aero-actuation control methods, projectile guidance technologies, tamper proofing, small stable power supplies, and advanced sighting, optical resolution and clarity technologies." In other words, bullets that, once fired at a specific target, fly themselves into it by changing shape. The new gun should be no heavier than the combined 46-lb. weight of the current $11,500 M107 sniper rifle and all its associated gear (including ammo, tripod, scope, and slide rules for target calculations).
In November, DARPA awarded Lockheed Martin $12.3 million and Teledyne Scientific & Imaging $9.5 million to begin work on the new weapon. If various technical hurdles are cleared, it could be available sometime around 2015. DARPA says the Pentagon needs the vastly improved rifle because the use of snipers has ballooned from 250 to 800 annually. The sharpshooters require extensive and expensive training— all of which could be reduced with a better gun. Snipers "are unable to take a shot the vast majority of the time" because of wind or other weather factors, and a lack of confidence in their ability to hit the target or flee if detected. Those shortcomings could be greatly reduced by the new longer-range rifle. How much longer range? "Specific system performance objectives (e.g., range, accuracy and target speed) are classified," the solicitation said. (See pictures of America's gun culture.)
Army Captain Keith Bell, former commander of the Army sniper school at Fort Benning, Georgia, can't wait to get his hands on the new rifle. "The EXACTO would be revolutionary," he says. "It will more than double our range and probably more than double our accuracy." Current sniper rifles can regularly hit trucks at 2,000 meters, but not bad guys. (The record kill is 2,430 meters, just over 1.5 miles. It was charted by Canadian army corporal Rob Furlong against a Taliban fighter in Afghanistan's Shah-i-kot valley during Operation Anaconda in March 2002— but his first two shots missed.) "There's no limit as far as I can see so long as the bullet's stable— I think 2,000 or 2,500 meters is very attainable," Bell says.
"Right now, anything past around 800 meters is an extremely tough shot," he added during a satellite telephone interview from Mosul, Iraq. "But this EXACTO will take the effects of wind, elevation and humidity all out of play." Bell spends his days training Iraqis as snipers and for other elements of the martial arts. Did he hear about what the Navy snipers did on Sunday? "Sure did," he said. "I'm jealous as hell."
If fiction about pirates appeals to you more than ugly reality, you can order Captain Hornigold's book on the subject:

Sunday, April 12, 2009

But it's the kinda thing he could have said

A friend of Pirate City reported this supposed press release:
After maintaining his silence for two days, President Obama will soon make his first public statement about the pirate attack upon an U.S.-flagged vessel off the Horn of Africa. After several inquiries and a few well-placed bribes, we have received an early transcript of the President's remarks:
Good evening. As you know, early yesterday, Somali-based pirates attacked the Maersk Alabama, a freighter carrying relief supplies to Kenya. While we do not yet know all the details, the Alabama's crew re-took control of the vessel and forced the pirates off the ship.
Since the pirates are still holding the captain, I have sent FBI negotiators to facilitate his safe and speedy release. I assure his friends and family that I will not stop until this man-made disaster is resolved in a peaceful, tolerant and ecologically-sound manner.
Obviously, this incident has raised many concerns among Americans. There have been calls for justice and even violence against the misguided perpetrators. But such an emotional reaction has led to the disparagement of entire groups with which we are unfamiliar. We have seen this throughout history.
For too long, America has been too dismissive of the proud culture and invaluable contributions of the Pirate Community. Whether it is their pioneering work with prosthetics, husbandry of tropical birds, or fanciful fashion sense, America owes a deep debt to pirates.
The past eight years have shown a failure to appreciate the historic role of these noble seafarers. Instead of celebrating their entreprenuerial spirit and seeking to partner with them to meet common challenges, there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive.
Some of us wonder if our current overseas contingency operation would even be needed had the last administration not been so quick to label pirates as thieves, terrorists, and worse. Such swashbucklaphobia can lead to tragic results, as we have seen this week.
To address this issue, I have instructed Vice President Joe Biden to create a cabinet-level Czar of Pirate Outreach and Buccaneer Interrelation. In addition, June 1st through 7th has been designated as Pirate Awareness Week, during which all federal buildings will fly the Jolly Roger and sponsor sensitivity training. Thankfully, my American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will fund free grog and hardtack for all attendees.
Finally, to all pirates listening to international broadcasts, shortwave services, and ship-to-shore radio, let me say this:
Ahoy, me regret arr relationship has set sail in a scurvy manner. Arr people share many mutual 'alues and concerns on t' raging main. Perchance, could ye handsomely release the cap'n o' the ship, and I assure that no harm will come t' ye or ye hearties. Let us smite t' reset button and launch our seabond on a new pegleg. Savvy? Godspeed t' ye and t' ye beauties. Aye, me parrot concurs.
Captain Hornigold says the scary part is how much it sounds like something the President would say...

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Somebody's doing it

Somali pirates seized a Danish-owned, U.S.-operated container ship on Wednesday with twenty-one American crew on board in the latest of a sharp rise in attacks off the Horn of Africa nation. Andrew Mwangura of the Kenya-based East African Seafarers' Assistance Programme said the 17,000 tonne vessel was hijacked in the Indian Ocean, four hundred miles off the Somali capital of Mogadishu. He said all the crew were believed to be safe, and that the vessel had been tentatively identified as the Maersk Alabama.
Gunmen from Somalia seized a British-owned ship on Monday after hijacking another three vessels over the weekend. In the first three months of 2009, only eight ships had been hijacked in the busy Gulf of Aden, which links Europe to Asia and the eastern Indian Ocean through the Suez Canal. Last year, heavily armed Somali pirates hijacked dozens of vessels, took hundreds of sailors hostage, often for weeks, and extracted millions of dollars in ransoms. Foreign navies rushed warships to the area in response and have reduced the number of successful attacks in recent months. But there are still near-daily attempts and the pirates have started hunting further afield, near the Seychelles.
On Monday, they hijacked a British-owned, Italian-operated ship with sixteen Bulgarian crew members on board. Over the weekend they also seized a French yacht, a Yemeni tug, and a 20,000-tonne German container vessel. Interfax news agancy said the Hansa Stavanger had a German captain, three Russians, two Ukrainians, and fourteen Filipinos on board.
The pirates typically use speed boats launched from "mother ships", which means they can sometimes evade foreign navies patrolling the busy shipping lanes and strike far out to sea. They take captured vessels to remote coastal village bases in Somalia, where they have usually treated their hostages well in anticipation of a sizeable ransom payment.
Pirates stunned the shipping industry last year when they seized a Saudi supertanker loaded with $100 million worth of crude oil. The Sirius Star and its 25 crew were freed in January after $3 million was parachuted onto its deck. Last September, they also grabbed world headlines by seizing a Ukrainian cargo ship carrying 33 Soviet-era T-72 tanks. It was released in February, reportedly for a $3.2 million ransom.

Friday, March 6, 2009

A fine piece of piratical steel

A 29-inch blade, aged appropriately, with a black handle and wooden scabbard; forty bucks from these guys.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Capt. Hornigold at home

Capt. Hornigold says that, courtesy of his shipmate Kelley, he has some new piratical duds...