Today is “International Talk Like A Pirate Day.” Many use it as an excuse to dress up in bad costumes and shout “Aaargh, Matie” and “Shiver me Timbers,” in some sort of odd homage to Johnny Depp and the Disney version of piracy. All we can say is “please don’t.” The pirates of the 17th century that are the basis for this nonsense were a brutal lot, and why some consider it cute to dress themselves and often their kids as murderous thieves is not immediately obvious.
Piracy today is a huge problem. Thousands of mariners have been taken hostage by pirates, held in captivity for long periods under horrible conditions. Modern piracy costs the world between $10 and 20 billion per year. Pretending to be a Disney pirate may be an amiable amusement but otherwise only distracts from the real problem of modern day piracy. To learn more about modern piracy go to “SaveOurSeafarers.”
An article in the Guardian from last June does something extremely unusual. It allows a real victim of Somali piracy a voice.
‘They kept us in a state of terror. Even when I could not see the torturing, I could hear the screams’
In April last year, I was training to become a naval officer on a chemical carrier owned by a company based in Mumbai. There were 22 of us aboard the boat – a mix of professional sailors and engineers from India; at 21, I was the youngest member of the crew.
The ship was heading from India to Norway, a journey that was meant to take 25 days. On the fourth day, late in the afternoon, I was on watch when one of the other lookouts yelled that he could see a boat approaching. We were sailing 120 miles south of Oman, a remote area of water, and from the size and appearance of the vessel, we suspected it was pirates.
I immediately radioed an Indian navy ship for help – but it was too late. Minutes later, six pirates boarded and, armed with rocket-propelled grenades and Kalashnikov rifles, opened fire on us. It was utterly terrifying and chaotic. We had no choice but to surrender.
We were herded into the navigational control room on deck and made to lie on the floor. In broken English, the pirates told us they were going to ask for a ransom of £15m from the company we worked for. Everyone was incredibly frightened. We lay in silence until the early hours of the next morning, when a further six pirates joined our ship and informed us we were going to sail to Somalia.
Conditions on the ship were unspeakable. We were confined to a tiny corner of the control room. The windows were sealed shut and it was airless and suffocating. The hygiene was appalling – we were allowed to use the toilet, but that soon degenerated into a stinking mess. Nearly all of us became sick. We were fed, but only enough to keep us alive – basic meals of potatoes and onions. Once every couple of weeks, we were allowed on deck to stretch our legs.
The pirates took it in turns to keep their guns trained on us – there was never a chance of escape. Nor was there any opportunity to develop a friendship with them. They kept us in a state of terror – we were beaten constantly with metal poles. I managed to avoid the worst violence, but I saw my crewmates being thrashed with sticks and having electric probes attached to their genitals, and one man was suspended by ropes from the ship’s mast for several hours. Even when I could not see the torturing, I could hear the screams. I can still hear the screams to this day. I don’t know why I wasn’t hurt more – maybe they thought I was too young and unimportant. Some of the older crew members were argumentative, but I made sure never to antagonise the pirates.