Real-life piracy

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Real-life piracy

“Here it is about gentlemen of fortune. They live rough, and they risk swinging, but they eat and drink like fighting-cocks, and when a cruise is done, why, it’s hundreds of pounds instead of hundreds of farthings in their pockets. Now, the most goes for rum and a good fling, and to sea again in their shirts.”

This is the lifestyle of pirates as described by Captain John Silver, who always had a parrot on one of his shoulders. This excerpt comes from the novel “Treasure Island” by Robert Louis Stevenson, a book that almost always surfaces in collections of international children’s literature.

Whether in novels or movies, pirates are often glamorized. It is a romantic notion to follow an old map over the horizon to an unknown island to find a buried treasure chest.

But the life of real pirates is, to the contrary, nasty, cruel, desperate, full of betrayals, and short because of disease and violence.

In “The History of Pirates” by Angus Konstam, the author concludes that we have endowed pirates with the image they currently enjoy simply because they stand for freewheeling behavior in contrast to the lives of modern, law-abiding urban dwellers.

Piracy as a job is as old as prostitution. And just as with prostitution, even in this day and age when the technology to sail has advanced to the point where we target it at space, piracy hasn’t ended. In waters off Somalia that flow into the Suez Canal, 63 pirate attacks took place between January and September this year. If anything has changed, it is that instead of plundering cargo like the pirates of old, nowadays they kidnap sailors to collect ransom.

A few days ago, the Los Angeles Times estimated that the annual revenue of Somali pirates amounts to $50 million. This is easily one of the most lucrative livelihoods in Somalia, impoverished due to a civil war that has lasted close to 20 years. It is no wonder that pirates, who live in luxurious mansions and own fancy foreign-made cars, are at the top of young women’s wish lists for a husband.

South Korean ships are also vulnerable to piracy on an almost regular basis. The Korean freighter Bright Ruby was released 36 days after it was captured by pirates. At least in this case the problem was solved sooner than in previous instances.

At last, the government has dispatched naval destroyers and counter-terrorism experts to the area to join the international naval coalition against piracy there. I hope they will again display the prowess our ancestors demonstrated in overcoming Japanese pirates in the East Sea a long time ago.


The writer is a deputy political editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Yeh Young-june [yyjune@joongang.co.kr]
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