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Saturday, May 09, 2009

Pirates


Pirates on the coast…pirates on the news. Pirates everywhere.

Actually, I lived my youth surrounded by pirates and their stories. The main thoroughfare in my town is presided over by an enormous statue of an illustrious pirate: Ruggiero de Lauria o Lluria. In here he is not named as such but rather as a valiant and respected admiral of the king of Aragon fleet, way back in the 13th century. But his deeds and loyalties: ruthless sackings and devastations and serving under the Aragon king, the Sicilian king and even Edward I of England made him more of a privateer than a formal admiral of the fleet.

In Ibiza, where I lived some years, also they have a large monument dedicated to a pirate: Captain Riquer, a corsair. Ibiza corsairs operated as recent as the mid 19th Century. I had the chance to meet one of his descendants, Catalina Riquer, a strikingly beautiful woman.

Many of the towns and cities of the Mediterranean Spanish coast were placed some miles inland because the menace of pirates. Isn’t that the case of Valencia, Castellón, Cambrils, and many others?

I read “Treasure’s Island” one hundred times as it sat by my bed for most of my young age and loved pirates movies: from Errol Flynn’s “Captain Blood” or the funny Burt Lancaster “The Crimson Pirate” to the recent “Pirates of the Caribbean” series.

Today’s pirates come nasty and unglamorous. The events on the Somalian coast are no fun but rather the sorry consequences of poverty and unlawfulness in a rogue country benighted by a long story of misery and bad governments.

One can understand the reluctance of the US to get entangled once again in a place where they did try and fail to impose some order at a cost of lives back in 1993 in Mogadishu.

The Somali pirates seem to resort to time-honoured methods: kidnapping people for a ransom. Two of my favourite historical figures suffer the action of pirates in their times and were held captive until a ransom was paid. One is Miguel de Cervantes. Five long years was Cervantes held prisoner in Algiers until money came for his rescue, some 500 “escudos” forked out by his family.

The other was Julius Caesar. As the story goes he was taken prisoner by the Cilician pirates that roamed the seas in those days and kept for some time, as Plutarch recounts: “ …. for thirty-eight days, with the greatest unconcern, he joined in all their games and exercises, just as if he was their leader instead of their prisoner. He also wrote poems and speeches which he read aloud to them, and if they failed to admire his work, he would call them to their faces illiterate savages, and would often laughingly threaten to have them all hanged.” After the ransom was paid and Caesar was liberated, he set up a fleet, went after the pirates and kept his promise hanging them all.

The US Navy and the Marine Corps, had a go with Northafrican pirates and that’s what is remembered in the USMC hymn when they sing about “ … the sands of Tripoli…”

If things keep going the way they go, it will not be enough with a Spanish frigate to keep them at bay. I wonder if a new Caesar and some marines will be necessary to take care of the problem.

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