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Steve Lunetta: Modern piracy: No Jack Sparrows or Jolly Rogers

Right About Now

Posted: January 11, 2009 8:25 p.m.
Updated: January 12, 2009 4:55 a.m.

"First, your return to shore was not part of our negotiations nor our agreement, so I must do nothing. And secondly, you must be a pirate for the Pirate's Code to apply, and you're not. And thirdly, the code is more of what you call ‘guidelines' than actual rules. Welcome aboard the Black Pearl, Miss Turner."
- Capt. Barbossa in "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl"

These are words spoken by Geoffrey Rush's Barbossa character in a Walt Disney movie based on a popular theme park ride. As most anyone with a pulse knows, the Pirates of the Caribbean is one of the most popular amusements in the Magic Kingdom and is a virtual trademark of not only the park but the Disney empire.

On the ride, visitors take a cruise through a pirate treasure cave and a canal in a city being sacked by pirates.

While cellophane flames lick the walls and windows, scenes of buccaneers chasing hapless residents can be seen, as well as an auction of recent captives. One inebriated denizen serenades a group of pigs while a gun battle plays out in an explosive storage area.

Now, don't get me wrong. A little good-natured murder and mayhem is always good for the soul. I just imagine the city is San Francisco and the pirates are Young Republicans.

Ahh, for the good old days.

As fun as it all seems, it is easy to lose perspective on the crime of piracy and the tremendous effects it can have on the world economy. The romanticized version of piracy seen in the Disney ride has little to do with the actual practice.

Goods stolen on the seas bankrupt companies, drive prices upward, disrupt insurance carriers and can result in a slowed economy.

All of this has an impact on us in the United States.

Piracy was probably invented the day the first man pushed a boat into the water. The guy on the shore looked at the guy in the boat and said, "Hey, nice boat. I think I'll take it."

In fact, as long as there were money and goods traveling on water, pirates have been around to steal it.
Throughout antiquity, pirates ravaged the Greek and Roman trade routes. In 75 BC, Julius Caesar was actually kidnapped by pirates in the Aegean Sea.

When the pirates demanded a ransom of 20 talents of gold, Caesar claimed he was worth at least 50. So the pirates raised their demand to his suggestion.

The ransom was paid but the egotistical Caesar got the Roman fleet and pursued the pirates, eventually putting them all to death. Life for a pirate was not always gravy.

In Europe, the earliest known pirates were called Vikings. Hailing from Scandinavia and Minnesota, the Viking raiders plundered coastal towns and cities using their fast ships to make quick getaways after brief orgies of plunder and looting. Doesn't this make all of you Valencia High grads proud?

Later, a privateer named Francis Drake earned a name for himself by raiding treasure vessels bound for Spain. The Sea Dog was so successful that he entered into partnership with the Queen of England (who got half of his proceeds) and wound up being knighted.

Sir Francis eventually led the Royal Navy to a great victory over the Spanish Armada. All of which proves that crime does pay - like being the governor of Illinois.

America has long stood against piracy. In the early 1800s Barbary pirates from the coast of Tripoli were interfering with trade routes, capturing vessels and just being a royal pain.

A 44-gun frigate called the USS Constitution, known as "Old Ironsides" for its remarkable ability to deflect cannon balls, was sent to the Mediterranean to dispatch a few pirates, which it did with remarkable efficiency.

Today, the world faces a new threat that is getting considerable play in the media. Pirates from the country of Somalia routinely attack ships off their country's coast in an attempt to rescue themselves from the desperate poverty of their native land.

And they are being wildly successful. Using fast speedboats and automatic weapons, they have easily overpowered numerous merchant vessel crews including a Saudi-owned supertanker called the Sirius Star that was laden with oil worth $100 million.

Of course, piracy has always been an easy route to fame and fortune. As the English before them, the Somalians have discovered that a small amount of brutality can yield a bountiful harvest of stolen goods and ransoms.

Unfortunately, the only proven method of dealing with pirates has been to eliminate them. Pirates must be convinced this path leads only to Davey Jones' Locker.

Will President Obama have the guts to stand up to these criminals? Will he deal with them forcefully and decisively as the Gipper would have?

Only time will tell.

Steve Lunetta is a Santa Clarita resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Right About Now" runs Mondays in The Signal.


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