Tackling Atlantic piracy three hundred years ago offers pointers on how to solve the resurgent threat of piracy today
5 June 2009 A specialist in maritime and imperial history at Swansea University's School of Humanities has been awarded a €6000 fellowship to write a book which aims to assist efforts to curb modern piracy by advising how the problem was dealt with in the past.
Dr Stefan Halikowski Smith was granted the fellowship from Bremen University following a massive upsurge in piracy in recent years, particularly off the Horn of Africa.
The issue was highlighted in January this year when Somali pirates freed a Saudi supertanker they had captured two months earlier in waters far south of Somalia.
It is hoped that Dr Halikowski Smith's knowledge of how piracy was successfully tackled in the eighteenth century may shed light on how the situation can be dealt with effectively today.
Dr Halikowski Smith explained: "Piracy tends to go hand-in-hand with 'failed states' and thus Somalia, which has been without central government since 1991 as well as Papua New Guinea and Sierra Leone, have seen off-shore piracy proliferate. To end piracy, state-building issues in these countries need to be addressed. This was the case in the eighteenth-century, when local regime-change was effected on rogue governors in the Caribbean."
"Also, whereas in the eighteenth century, global seaborne piracy was largely tackled by The British Empire, and by one appointed body - the Royal Navy - the recent spate in global piracy is addressed in a piecemeal fashion; with individual nation-states, such as China and India; international bodies including the EU and NATO; and concerned federations of shipowners from the Ukraine working in isolation. A co-ordinated effort might yield greater rewards."
Dr Halikowski Smith's book is to draw historical parallels with the solutions of the British Empire and The Royal Navy in tackling piracy in the eighteenth century with the much less successful effort on the part of the Portuguese in the sixteenth century who suffered terrible losses from piracy on their primary European re-export trade leg from Lisbon to Antwerp between 1500 and1560 and desperately resorted to paying off French authorities to stop the pillaging, without success.
Dr Halikowski Smith said: "Although the Portuguese suffered at the hands of the French, they were more successful in combating piracy off the coast of Brazil in the sixteenth-century, where `capitanias da mar' were instituted - an official post responsible for directing Portuguese armed squadrons to continuously patrol the coastline.
"What history has taught us is that, instead of 'pay-offs', regime change needs to be effected with respect to local authorities, and an effective round-the-clock power at sea implemented to help counteract the pirates."
`Tackling Atlantic piracy three hundred years ago offers pointers on how to solve the resurgent threat of piracy today’.