History of Pirates
The word pirate, in a current dictionary, means' a person who attacks and robs ships at sea.' Pirates have existed as long as men have put boats on the waters. An old clay document dating from 1350 B. C. tells of random attacks on the Mediterranean Sea along the coast of North Africa. The is a reminder of ships flying a skull and crossbones flag, one-legged and one-eyed sailors, fierce fighting on board a captured ship and drunken sailors. In 100 A. D., the Greek historian Plutarch said that a pirate was someone who attacks other ships and cities along the coast without the legal authority to do so.
The Golden Age of Piracy began in the 1500's. European powers were sending out trading ships around the world and bringing back costly items. The states of North Africa, from the western border of Egypt to the Atlantic Ocean, became a haven and headquarters for pirates who attacked and boarded these ships and stole their valuable contents. This northern coast of Africa was called the Barbary Coast from the name of the people, the Berbers. These lands were under the control of the Muslim Ottoman Empire with its capital in Constantinople.
Barbarossa was a leader in North Africa who united Algeria and Tunisia under the control of the Ottoman Empire. He earned his living from piracy in the 1500's. His pirates had imprisoned in Algiers by 1650 over 30,000 captives taken from ships which his men had attacked.
During the 1500's and 1600's, pirates called buccaneers were paid by England, Holland and France to attack every kind of seagoing vessel belonging to Spain. During the Elizabethan Era (late 1500's), Sir Francis Drake was a famous British pirate who went around the world attacking Spanish ships and even the coast of Spanish California.
Piracy was practiced in a lesser- known area of the world at that time also. Pinyin Zheng Zhilong was a famous pirate who grew up in Portuguese Macau. He became rich by attacking and plundering the Dutch and Chinese ships in the area. The pirate Cheng Ch'eng-kung controlled the island of Formosa for a long time. AS the governments of Japan and China increased in strength, piracy was less common in that part of the world.
After the American Revolution (1775-1783), the United States paid the Barbary pirates of North Africa not to attack American ships. However, several wars between Tripolitania in Northern Africa and the United States occurred in the 1800's over the matter of piracy.
The European nations finally gained control of North African piracy by the early 1900's. Piracy declined around the world in the 1800's and 1900's due to the increase in the size of merchant ships, better communications technology and more patrolling of the waters by the navies of the world.
Today, piracy still exists in many areas of the world, but its weapons and methods have changed. Most piracy occurs in the waters of the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, and the water s off Indonesia and Singapore. These pirates have heavy-duty weapons such as rocket launchers and board large merchant ships. They have communications technology which tells them where a ship is traveling and when. Sometimes these pirates are backed by governments. They can have an advantage in attacking near a country without the resources to control them, such as Brazil which has no coast guard. Kidnapping may be involved, with the pirates demanding a huge ransom for those taken. Pirate attacks occur now at the rate of about twenty-thirty per month. London, England is the center for intelligence information about shipping. This is fed to pirates around the world. The pirates then may carefully plan attacks.
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