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As he was working for the Spanish monarchy, these 'new lands' were claimed by the Spanish, who soon discovered them to be a rich source of silver, gold and gems. From the 16th century, large Spanish ships, called galleons, began to sail back to Europe, loaded with precious cargoes that pirates found impossible to resist.

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So many pirate attacks were made that galleons were forced to sail together in fleets with armed vessels for protection. As Spanish settlers set up new towns on Caribbean islands and the American mainland, these too came under pirate attack. Corsairs were pirates who operated in the Mediterranean Sea between the 15th and 18th centuries.

Both used to swoop down on their targets in oar-powered boats called galleys, to carry off sailors and passengers.

The Golden Age of Piracy | Explore Royal Museums Greenwich

Unless these unfortunates were rich enough to pay a ransom, they were sold as slaves. At first they lived as hunters, but later the governors of Caribbean islands paid the buccaneers to attack Spanish treasure ships. Although raids began in this way, with official backing, the buccaneers gradually became out of control, attacking any ship they thought carried valuable cargo, whether it belonged to an enemy country or not. The buccaneers had become true pirates.

In England there was social disruption. Smaller farmers were forced off the land by ruthless landowners and smaller tradesmen were challenged by larger businesses. These displaced people flocked to urban areas looking for work or poor relief. Many of his sailors were former pirates and not long into the voyage when pickings were scarce, they told Kidd that he had better come up with some plunder…or else.

In , he attacked and sacked the Queddah Merchant , a Moorish ship with an English captain. Allegedly the ship had French papers, which was good enough for Kidd and his men. However, his arguments did not fly in a British court and Kidd was eventually hanged for piracy. Edward "Blackbeard" Teach terrorized the Atlantic between the years of In , he supposedly retired, accepted a pardon and settled down in North Carolina. In reality, he was still a pirate and was in cahoots with the local governor, who offered him protection in exchange for part of his loot.

The Governor of nearby Virginia chartered two warships, the Ranger and the Jane , to capture or kill the legendary pirate. On November 22, , they cornered Blackbeard in Ocracoke Inlet. A fierce battle ensued, and Blackbeard was killed after taking five gunshot wounds and twenty cuts by sword or knife. His head was cut off and displayed: according to legend, his headless body swam around the ship three times before sinking. Bartholomew "Black Bart" Roberts was the greatest of the Golden Age pirates, taking hundreds of ships over a three-year career.

He preferred a small fleet of two to four ships that could surround and intimidate his victims. In , a large warship, the Swallow , was sent to get rid of Roberts. The Swallow later returned for Roberts, aboard his flagship the Royal Fortune. The ships began firing on one another, and Roberts was killed almost immediately. Without their captain, the other pirates lost heart quickly and surrendered.


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Eventually, 52 of Roberts' men would be found guilty and hanged. The governor outfitted a sloop for pirate hunting, named Jonathan Barnet captain and sent them off in pursuit. Barnet caught up with Rackham off of Negril Point. Rackham tried to run, but Barnet was able to corner him. The ships fought briefly: only three of Rackham's pirates put up much of a fight. Among them were the two famous female pirates, Anne Bonny , and Mary Read , who berated the men for their cowardice. Later, in jail, Bonny allegedly said to Rackham: "If you had fought like a man, you need not have hanged like a dog.

Stede "the Gentleman Pirate" Bonnet wasn't really much of a pirate. He was a born landlubber who came from a wealthy family on Barbados. In November , pirates in two speedboats tried to attack the cruise liner Seabourn Spirit off Somalia. If you enter an anonymous office 35 floors above Kuala Lumpur's lush tropical streets and pass through a secured door, you will come to a small room dominated by maps of the world taped onto two of the walls.

When pirates attack anywhere in the world, this office almost always receives the first report of it and radios out the first alert.

Operation Caribe

Tens of thousands of vessels depend on the IMB's information. Red pins mark the latest attacks. On the day I visited, the pins looked like a rash covering much of the world. Another wall was covered with thank-you plaques from the admirals of many nations, including the United States. Noel Choong, who ushered me through this command center, spent more than ten years on oceangoing ships as a mariner.

Now, in a dark suit, the soft-spoken Choong looked more like a corporate middle manager than a supersleuth of the seas.


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  • Choong showed me the center's reports on the major pirate attacks it recorded in One hundred eighty-eight crewmen were taken hostage and 15 were killed—9 in Asia, 4 in Africa and 1 each in the Middle East and South America. He recalled the 13 pirates—12 Chinese and 1 Indonesian—who hijacked the Cheung Son , a Hong Kong-registered cargo ship, off China in But they were caught, convicted of piracy and murder in a Chinese court, and sentenced to death. On their way to the firing squad, Choong said, the 13 sang Ricky Martin's bouncy World Cup soccer theme, "La Copa de la Vida," jumping up and down in their chains as they bellowed the chorus: "Go, go, go, ale, ale, ale.

    Because much of Choong's work is under cover, and because he's been the target of assassination threats, he's careful to protect his anonymity. He has a wide network of informants—usually members of pirate gangs or corrupt government officials looking for a fat payoff—and when a big ship goes missing, he will jet to distant cities at short notice to launch recovery operations. Recently, an informant called Choong's cellphone to say he knew where pirates were holding a hijacked ship.

    Choong forwarded the offer to Chinese authorities, who found the ship at anchor in the South China Sea, sporting fresh paint, a new name and a fake registration. The entire transaction—from phone call to payoff—took no more than a week. But Choong doubted that the man got to enjoy his loot. Between rounds of whiskey in a plush Kuala Lumpur bar, a ship broker who asked not to be named because of security concerns told me that besides buying and selling ships for his clients, he sometimes arranges ransoms to get their vessels back from hijackers, for about the same sum that Choong had mentioned.

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    Bringing in the authorities "might tie up the ship for weeks, even months, at a port while they investigate the crime. That could lose them millions of dollars. Of course, not all negotiations go smoothly. Along the coast of Somalia—which Choong pinpointed as one of the world's likeliest areas for pirate attacks—brigands can, and often do, drag out negotiations for months. He said he had spent four months in as a hostage of Somali pirates as they haggled with the Italian owner of a fishing trawler they had hijacked. The bandits, he said, fed their guests just enough food to keep them alive, and often beat them with rifle butts.

    In pursuit of the hijacked dhow, the Churchill had the advantage of surprise. The pirates "couldn't see us over the horizon" during the night, the ship's executive officer, Lt. Erik Nilsson, told me in a telephone interview. But at first light the destroyer deliberately showed itself to the crew of the dhow, and the pirates took off to the west.

    Somalia's territorial waters—from which the Churchill was barred by international law—were 80 nautical miles away.


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    • Nilsson had no doubt this was the right ship. He had gotten a description of it from the captain of the Delta Ranger. When the pirates refused, the U. The chase went on all morning and into the afternoon. With Somali waters only four hours away, the Churchill closed to within yards of the dhow and fired across its bow with its millimeter chain guns.

      Some of the Churchill 's crew boarded the dhow and took everyone on it into custody. Aboard the destroyer, a Hindi-speaking member of the Churchill crew questioned the dhow's captain. Nilsson said that he had seen the Somalis throw unidentified "objects" over the side during the night.

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      Many pirates try to ditch their weapons in the belief that it would provide less evidence for prosecution, but if that were the case aboard the dhow, it didn't work: the boarding party found an AK stashed in the wheelhouse. Later that afternoon, the USS Nassau , a 40,ton amphibious assault ship and the flagship of the expeditionary strike group to which the Churchill was attached, caught up with the destroyer.

      Ten Somali pirates were taken to the brig of the larger ship. After consulting with the U. Central Command, the Nassau took the Somalis to Mombasa, where Kenyan authorities arrested them and charged them with piracy. Another is to prevent sea-based terrorism. Choong had told me that piracy was prevalent even in the hazardous waters off Iraq in the northern Persian Gulf. To get there, I flew to the desert kingdom of Bahrain, headquarters of the U. Along the way, the chopper flew fast and low over a sparkling green sea dotted with coral islands, fishing dhows and oil rigs.

      With the cruiser steaming along, the pilot put us smoothly down on the aft deck. On board, Australian Navy lieutenant commander Tish Van Stralen, a maritime lawyer, said that the cruiser was the flagship of an eight-ship coalition task force guarding Iraq's nearby Al Basrah and Khawr Al Amaya oil terminals, which were pumping up to 1.

      see url The pirate hunters patrolling the zones were a Coast Guard crew aboard the cutter Aquidneck. The next morning I rode a half hour across a flat sea in a rigid inflatable speedboat to meet them. Jonathan Carter and his man crew had spent six months on these volatile waters.