The Vedic texts from India, among the oldest sacred texts in the world, record the history of piracy.
Ancient Illyrians caused countless troubles for the Romans by marauding in the Adriatic Sea. In the 9th century, Muslim pirates established themselves in southern France and northern Italy.
Japanese Wokou hit the Chinese and Korean coasts from the 13th to 16th centuries. Chinese pirate fleets filled the waters of East Asia in the early 19th century. Pirates from the island of Sulawesi struck targets from Singapore to the Philippines.
The French, Spanish, English, Portuguese, U.S., and many others produced their share of men and women who raided shipping, smuggled, pillaged towns, and enslaved people for sale or to work for them.
The Barbary Corsairs of North Africa caused havoc from Italy to Iceland for hundreds of years. Between the 16th and 19th centuries, thousands of ships were captured and an estimated 800,000 -1.25 million Europeans were taken captive and sold into slavery in North Africa and the Ottoman Empire.
Any shipping in the Mediterranean was at risk, including the new kids on the block: the sailors from the United States. Turks, Arabs, and Europeans filled the ranks of the Corsairs.
Pirates made their profits from many unsavory means.
Regarding treasure, the majority of goods stolen through the millennia consisted of unglamorous items like food, equipment, rope, and soap as well as ships.
Large sums of gold and other valuables were taken, though relatively few chests of gold were tucked away on some remote beach to be retrieved later.
The potential to obtain far more as a pirate than most regular citizens was an enormous enticement.
One of many examples of the profit of piracy comes from Thomas Tew’s capture of an Indian merchantman in 1692. Each ordinary seaman of his crew received a share worth £3,000. This was in the day when seamen in the English Royal Navy received 19 shillings a month.
At 20 shillings per £, that’s a significant difference.
Pirates still prowl the seas and rivers of the world today, and successful ones are still paid well.
Modern Somali pirates, for example, can make up to an estimated US $79,000 per year: a very good salary by many countries’ standards and a fortune in Somalia where the average yearly income is perhaps US $600-1,000.
Each ransomed ship provides US $2-5 million to a pirate operation.
These escapades understandably draw a lot of media attention; however, other traditional aspects of piracy continue as well.
This brings us back to the land of one of the first groups mentioned in this article: Illyrians. One of the Illyrian tribes, the Albanoi, went on to create the nation of Albania. There, I personally encountered an ironic, sad modern connection to piracy.
One Example of Modern Piracy
While working in Albania I learned that, like every country, it has many people doing good works as well as some others.
There is a concrete boat ramp. It begins on the soil of Albania and eases into the waters of the Adriatic Sea at a town in southern Albania.
Similar ramps must exist in other towns, other countries. Every night, about midnight, Zodiac boats are pumped full of air and outboard motors are attached to sterns. Then, cargo is put in the boats and the water behind the boats churns to leave an aqueous trail from the ramp to the boats as they head west toward Italy.
If they are not spotted, the men in charge of these boats deposit their cargo on shore. They go at night to avoid detection, but even these small boats can be spotted sometimes by Italy’s ships guarding its eastern coast.
If that happens, the men in the boats dump their cargo into the sea and speed off lighter and faster.
That “cargo” is people.
If they are put ashore and not left to die in the sea, you might only be able to try to imagine their lives.
A True Account of Trafficking
Anila Trimi, an expert in Anti-Trafficking of Human Beings at the General Directorate for Albania and Award of Excellence Winner from ICTAP: the U.S. Department of Justice’s International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program, knows the effects of this kind of activity; her focus has been working with trafficking victims.
Here, Ms. Trimi recounts one such story:
“When the communist system collapsed in Albania after 1990, people were facing a lot of socio-economic difficulties. The factories were closing, and everybody was thinking to emigrate for a better life.
It didn’t matter how; the important thing was to get abroad just leave the country. It was then when the criminal elements in Albania began to exploit the situation, promising and facilitating people to cross the border illegally.
They kept in touch with organized crime groups in EU countries and quickly got involved in drug trafficking, smuggling people, and trafficking human beings.
People were happy to get an offer to work abroad. Nobody knew what exploitation was, nobody knew they could get there and face violence, exploitation for prostitution, forced labor, slavery.
One of the girls told me, ‘I got an offer to look after an old woman in Naples, Italy. I thought, now my family will have enough money to leave and will be happy.’
She left home one morning, the sky was still dark (perhaps even the sun didn’t want to rise that day), a taxi was waiting for her. She had to travel to Vlora where she could get in a speed boat and leave. She had no money to pay the ticket. ‘No problem,’ she was told. The man who was accompanying her had arranged everything, and she will repay him as soon as she gets to Italy.
She gets there, and the next morning she finds herself in the street finding clients, prostituting for the person who ‘saved’ her from poverty. She dared to say no to this job, but was tied behind a car and dragged around as an example to other girls.
Her life went on like that. Her family had no idea where she was until years later.
She comes back, tries to cover her face, tries to invent a story, feels ashamed of what happened. She blames herself for being in that situation. Her family doesn’t consider her anymore, she is nothing for them, she is a prostitute, she has no moral, she can’t be their daughter any more, she must die.
Do they really know how she got there? What she went through?
She begs not to tell the real story to her family, but the story was already told. People had told her story and others as well for some time. Every girl leaving the country was considered a prostitute. Nobody could go beyond that.
They may have been kidnapped or raped or everything, no, no they were simply prostitutes that ‘deserved’ what happened to them.
You try to calm her, she is shaking, what will happen to her, she lost her life now she finds out that the family was lost too. She can’t contact her mother, oh mother. Trying to ask her when she left the country, she looks you in the eyes and answers, ‘I was not at my wedding ceremony; I don’t know anymore. I have no Idea what the date and years are.’
And you try to forget that question, feeling sorry about that. She doesn’t want that. She wants something else. She needs a mother’s hug.
‘“The mother can’t meet her; the man of the house will never allow this. But mother’s eyes want to see her, her soul is shouting her name. In a hidden way, asks me to help her daughter, please help her.
Tears fall down but that mother must not cry, she is not allowed to cry for a prostitute.
The mother still wants to hug her, she wants to shout to the world she wants to cry, she wants to be happy, her daughter is still alive….”
Albania is one example, but similar scenes happen in too many other countries around the world.
Will This Business Ever End?
Horrific as it is, human enslavement and trafficking for sex, labor, or other reasons continues to plague many victims.
An estimated 27 million people are in slavery right now. About one million children are exploited by the global commercial sex trade. A significant portion of these groups have been trafficked either domestically or internationally.
US $32 billion is the estimated yearly income from human trafficking, with about half of those profits going to industrialized countries.
Piracy and its many activities only continue if they are profitable. Like any ‘product’, if someday there were no buyers of humans, worldwide, there would be no more sellers.
Next Time: Misadventures of a Wandering Artist
Originally published on TopSecretWriters.com
© Mark Dorr, All Rights Reserved
Citation reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piracy
Citation reference: http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1891386,00.html
Citation reference: http://ancienthistory.about.com/library/bl/bl_albaniaancient.htm
Citation reference: Anila Trimi, Expert in Anti-Trafficking of Human Beings at the General Directorate for Albania
Citation reference: http://www.dreamcenter.org/new/images/outreach/RescueProject/stats.pdf
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Photo reference : http://geology.com/world/albania-satellite-image.shtml
Photo reference : http://www.travelizmo.com/archives/000740.html
Photo reference: http://organizedbyjenn.wordpress.com/2011/05/03/mothers-day/
Photo reference : http://www.sf-hrc.org/index.aspx?page=58