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Piracy and Sailors Beyond the Age of Sail

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Ruth McClelland-Nugent

on 16 June 2015

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Transcript of Piracy and Sailors Beyond the Age of Sail

Legal changes
Technological changes
Social changes
Economic and political changes
The persistence of piracy
Legal Changes: The Paris Declaration of 1856
In 1856, at the conclusion of the Crimean War, several European powers signed onto a declaration that banned privateering. This was an extension of an agreement in force between France and Great Britain. Eventually 55 nations came to sign it.
It prefigured the Geneva Conventions as an attempt to set rules and limitations for war during peacetime.
The Paris Declaration

Privateering is, and remains, abolished;
The neutral flag covers enemy's goods, with the exception of contraband of war;
Neutral goods, with the exception of contraband of war, are not liable to capture under enemy's flag;
Blockades, in order to be binding, must be effective, that is to say, maintained by a force sufficient really to prevent access to the coast of the enemy.


The present Declaration is not and shall not be binding, except between those Powers who have acceded, or shall accede, to it.

— Paris Declaration Respecting Maritime Law.
Technological changes
Heavily armored steam ships, dubbed gunboats, came into use during the Crimean War and the US Civil War.

These ships, deployable in rivers in and coastal waters, proved to be excellent for deterring piracy and smuggling. This military technology was increasingly difficult for pirtes to beat in area patrolled by British, American, Russian and eventually, Japanese vessels. They remained in use through World War I.

New turret guns significantly increased the effectiveness of naval artillery. By the late 19th century, armor-piercing artillery and rapid-fire weapons were far ahead of any weapons pirates could acquire. Through the mid 20th century, modern navies stayed comfortably ahead of seasgoing criminals in terms of armaments.

The advent of steam and then oil-powered vessels also meant major changes in sailors' lives. Although life at sea remained a workplace apart, sailors nolonger needed the vast multitude of skills necessary in the 17th and 19th centuries. Their work became more specialized.

Social Changes
In economic terms, sailors became less able to negotiate collectively for wages as their jobs changed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. With the advent of air travel, passenger shipping declined after World War II, decreasing career opportunities further. Sustainability concerns in the late 20th century restricted and reduced whaling and fishing in various waters, shrinking maritime opportunities even further.

As Bolster notes, British and American ships of all kinds became increasingly racially segregated in the later 19th and early 20th centuries. The establishment of Jim Crow in the United States and the expansion of European empires in Africa had an overall effect of increasing racial prejudice at sea as well as on land. By the Second World War, the United State Navy had almost no berths for black men other than as stewards and cooks. The WAVES (Women's Naval Reserve), established in 192, id not accept black women until November 1944. In Britiain, the precentage of minorities remains low in the Navy (3.4% as of 2011 vs. about 8% of the population). As of 2014, about 7% of US Navy officers and about 17% of enlisted are black.

Although officers' wives sailed with the British Navy as late as the Battle of Trafalgar, naval reorganization in the 19th centuries reduced the presence of women abord ships to bery little, although a few whalers and commercial captains continued to have wives ad families aboard. World Wars I and II saw some navies admit women in limited medical and administrative roles (as with the WAVEs, above). In 1989, Canada became the first English-speaking nation to permit female personnel to serve on a surface vessel (or at least the first women not disguised as men!)

Modrn pirates have persistently declined to be surveyed for demographic data.

Economic and political changes
As John Anderson notes in today's readings, piracy seems to correlate to several different dynamics on world history. He labels the three modes of piracy episodic, parasitic, and intrinsic.
He notes that episodic piracy can occur anytime the conditions are right, using the example of Vietnam. When political instability makes for vulnerable populations at sea, and a state unwilling or unable to protect its citizens, serious episodic piracy becomes a problem
The rise of non-state actors in international terrorism makes piracy even more difficult to police, as international mechanisms remain elusive today.
Political instability has also reversed the late 19th century trend in availability of arms. Whereas pirates in the late 19th-mid 20th centuries had little hope of outgunning naval vessels, the proxy wars of the Cold War and civil wars of the 1980s and 1990s began to make very impressive armaments more available on the black market. Pirates once again can compete with many of the world's naval and coastal police forces.

Piracy Today
As the assigned
National Geographic
article notes, "pirate attacks around the world tripled in the decade between 1993 and 2003. "

Piracy remains a grave concern for maritime commers, as you can read here: http://www.maritime-executive.com/piracy-news

And see the live piracy map for 2015 (or look at 2014) to get a sense of the geography of the problem:

What lessons, if any, do you think learning about the piracy of the past will teach about tackling piracy today?
Piracy and Sailors Beyond the Age of Sail
Changing times at sea: Later 19th and 20th centuries
The United States did not sign the Declaration, although it declared in 1861 it would abide by its principles. The Confederacy made no such agreement. Thus, the US Civil War was one of the last great Atlantic wars to prominently feature privateering and piracy (per the Kert book.)
Confederate privateering was intended to be part of breaking the Union blockade of the CSA. However, privateers, like blockade runners, found it difficult to break the blockade and get their prizes to Confederate courts. Privateerng was not as profitable as had been hoped.

Further, Confederate privateers were regarded as simply pirates by the Union government., with their letters of marque having no value, because the CSA was not recognized as a legitimate government. The most famous trial, of the ship Savannah, ended in a deadlocked jury. The men were not executed, but privateering was clearly not a money-maker for the Confederacy.
One of the early iron clad gunboats.
Entirely new technologies required new attention in the age of steam
'Dorie' Miller became hero at Pearl Harbor when he manned anti-aircraft guns and saved wounded sailors. Yet his rating was Ship's Cook, one of the few ratings available to black men at the time. he was the first African-American to be honored with the Navy Cross.
Harriet "Ida" Pickens and Frances Wells, first
black women to serve as WAVES.
HMCS Nipigon, first Royal Canadian Navy vessel with a mixed-gender crew.
Modern hotspots of piracy
Quick firing artillery of the early 20th century. Large calbre guns at front, smaller calibre to the sides.
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