Category Archives: Sailing

Ship Blocking Suez Canal Had History of Losing Control

Were nautical engineers in denial (pun intended) when they created a massively massive ship that has the grace of a drunken sailor on ice?

All the fresh reports of a ship named Ever Given blocking the Suez Canal seem to underplay the most important point. This ship built in 2018 was in a similar accident in 2019:

…the cargo ship ran into a small ferry moored on the Elbe river in the German port city of Hamburg. Authorities at the time blamed strong wind for the collision…

It wasn’t a small ferry that was hit. This ship is massively massive at 400 meters long and 59 meters wide. Everything is small compared to that. Do you know how wide the massive Suez Canal is? Only 286 meters.

The prior crash suggests it’s a known design flaw in handling wind (and by that I’m including bridge comms) that should have been fixed long ago. Here’s analysis from 2011 saying wind is a major factor in container ship engineering only getting worse:

…the amount of hours with troubling winds and loss of productivity on a container terminal due to wind will double. Increase of wind pressure The increase in world sea trade causes an increase in port equipment and vessel size. For example, the 9500 TEU container vessel commissioned in 2005 is almost ten times the capacity of the first generation container vessels of 1962. This also affects the size of the cranes. The effect of wind increases due to larger wind surfaces of cranes and vessels, but the effect is also augmented because of the extra wind speed at higher altitudes.

And here’s a graphic from analysis in 2013 that modeled steerage loss in rivers due to even light winds.

The effect of the beam wind force for different superstructures. Source: THE SIMULATED EFFECT OF THE WIND ON A 13.300 TEU CONTAINER SHIP, Naval Academy Press 2013

In other words, the ship itself is too tall to avoid thinking of itself as a sail and then stacking containers on top literally becomes an act of creating a permanent sail with predictable effects in wind (e.g. as demonstrated in 2012 wind tunnel experiments).

Source: “Wind Forces on Container Ships” by Ingrid Marie Vincent Andersen. DTU Department of Mechanical Engineering Fluid Mechanics, Coastal and Maritime Engineering

The winds in the 2019 Germany crash were reported as force seven with gusts of force eight (30 knots with gusts to 40 knots). That’s a bit strong (25 knots is the top end of most sailors’ comfort level) but more importantly it was a foreshadowing.

Zum Zeitpunkt der Kollision herrschte Windstärke sieben vor Blankenese – bei Böen der Stärke acht!

The sort of obvious problem is that engineers have come up with designs so tall that in just 30 knot winds (which seems to be the same wind force in Egypt 2021 as in Germany 2019), despite traveling at a blazing 12.8 knots, it couldn’t steer a reliable path.

WindFinder forecasts like this one for the Suez Canal show how a ship’s bridge would be well aware of risks.

That’s why I say their ship operated like a drunken sailor on ice, twice!

Vessel Head to Wind with Headway. Source: Knowledge of Sea

This is a metaphor for engineering mismanagement by not thinking ahead about design decisions relative to the very well known natural environment.

Bigger is not better. Also patches need to happen faster. Lack of planning and a failure to respond to earlier warnings leads to… bigger disasters.

Some reports include the point that the ship experienced a power outage when it lost steerage. Others dispute this. Power loss maybe complicates matters but the ship should still have had fine steerage (let alone ability to drop anchor).

Some reports include the point that the wind caused visibility issues because of sand. This doesn’t sound right to me as the ship ran aground precisely on 23 March 05:45am and sunrise on this day was 05:50am. Visibility before sunrise?

It comes back to the ship was so wide, tall and long it lacked an ability to stay pointed at 12.8 knots of momentum in flat water. I mean 30 knot winds would be unusually strong for the canal (let alone gusts to 50 knots), which reportedly sees 5-10 knots year round, but it’s something that engineers should have planned for especially after the 2019 crash.

Steerage in constrained space is a major problem for nautical engineers, such as a river where the ship moves too fast for micro course corrections and too slow for major course corrections (and of course lacks brakes). For a ship this size 30 knot winds wouldn’t mean a thing in open water, but in a river underway in-between slow and fast controls it’s a recipe for disaster.

This is how the drift looked, tracked in a VesselFinder video:

The ship starts to slide to port and compensates with over steering towards starboard. Its stern then spins towards port, which maybe is expected from wind pressure changing, driving the bow increasingly starboard into the canal bank.

Also let’s be honest, 12.8 knots sounds unusually high for a ship in this canal. What was it thinking? That decision rendered her bow thrusters and low-speed controls useless (as speed increases thrusters become less effective and rudders become more effective) meaning it was going so fast it needed lightning speed reaction times of complex geometry by human pilots to course correct.

Perhaps that’s the real investigation here? (Not saying automated pilots would do better, but calculations of known factors like wind speed, direction and rudder/engine adjustments can be made faster by machines)

Now for the opposite perspective. People say they didn’t see such a looming disaster coming.

Images showed the ship’s bow was touching the eastern wall, while its stern looked lodged against the western wall – an extraordinary event that experts said they had never heard of happening before in the canal’s 150-year history.

Nobody has heard of a ship going sideways so far that it touches both banks? This ship is so big it had very little time before it was touching both. Many ships have certainly run aground (e.g. 2017 another very new massive ship was stuck in the Suez).

I guess you put those two facts together and the past could have easily predicted the present.

Source: Airbus Pleiades intelligence satellite

Note the unlimited fetch (unobstructed path) for wind along the canal in the images where the ship is stuck. A 30 knot wind is a much more solid force when there are no trees or buildings, as disturbances in flow significantly reduce power.

A couple more interesting points here.

Being aground as she is, all the way up on the eastern bank, and she’s listing to port, it’s very hard to be able to pull her off. They’re in a very dangerous, precarious position too, with both ends of the vessel on the beach there’s a potential for the vessel to sag in the middle. If they cannot get her off that position with the tugs, they’re going to have to start removing fuel out of her, and then containers, but the difficulty with getting the containers off her is she’s so high, so tall, that it would be very difficult to get the correct size cranes in there.

The ship being so tall also impacts the ability to off-load it to get it off the ground. Cranes afloat probably will not be tall enough (because if they were tall enough they also might be blown over by winds).

And the ship being so long means it could end up sagging with both ends aground but the middle in deep canal water.

Pressing tugs against the middle of the ship while the bow and stern are stuck on land could be a structural nightmare. Did engineers think about that too? I would bet not.

This story has many lessons and insights about engineering that hopefully will be studied in great detail to change the future in terms of ethical product management. It is almost exactly a repeat of the kind of thing meant to be avoided by studying the 1940 collapse of a bridge during high wind.

Just four months after Galloping Gertie failed, a professor of civil engineering at Columbia University, J. K. Finch, published an article in Engineering News-Record that summarized over a century of suspension bridge failures. Finch declared, ‘These long-forgotten difficulties with early suspension bridges clearly show that while to modern engineers, the gyrations of the Tacoma bridge constituted something entirely new and strange, they were not new — they had simply been forgotten.’ … An entire generation of suspension-bridge designer-engineers forgot the lessons of the 19th century.

The lessons forgotten here are obviously related to how a boat on water with a giant sail (fixed or otherwise) tends to sail like a sailboat when the wind blows. The solutions, pun intended, will be found in improved bridge resource management.

“Stateless” Dhows Smuggling Weapons Near Somalia Caught by US Navy

I think the phrase that stands out for me most in this US Navy press report is “stateless”.

The guided-missile destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG 81) seized illicit shipments of weapons and weapons components from two stateless dhows during a maritime security operation in international waters off the coast of Somalia, Feb. 11-12.

It was a “flag verification” that led to the discovery, after these dhows were monitored for nearly two days in international waters.

Churchill’s Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure (VBSS) team and embarked joint service Advanced Interdiction Team (AIT) discovered the illicit cargo during a flag verification boarding conducted in accordance with international law and in international waters. The cache of weapons consisted of thousands of AK-47 assault rifles, light machine guns, heavy sniper rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and crew served weapons. […] The original source of the weapons has not yet been identified. Churchill located the dhows and provided more than 40 hours of over watch and security for the ship and its boarding teams throughout the two-day operation.

“Source of the weapons has not yet been identified” seems odd as well, given 40 hours of over watch. Pretty clear these are Chinese-made RPG-7… so I guess the remaining question is who is buying and shipping them?

Source: US Navy Press Office, Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Louis Thompson Staats IV

Some speculate these are Iranian deals, and perhaps even headed for Yemen.

Yet I’ll go out on a limb based on export data and wonder aloud whether the arms originally were Chinese shipments to Ethiopia that ended up diverted.

Ethiopia seems likely to top Chinese diplomats’ agenda for East Africa. China and Ethiopia have expressed their enthusiasm for expanding military ties, and officers from the Ethiopian military have even received training in China.

Another clue could come from the UAE Embassy attack plot in Ethiopia, disclosed February 3rd.

Ethiopia’s state-run media have said authorities arrested 15 people over a plot to attack the United Arab Emirates’ embassy in the capital, Addis Ababa. The Ethiopian Press Agency (EPA) on Wednesday cited a statement from the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) as saying that the suspects were working on foreigners’ direction.

The US Pentagon clarified “foreigners’ direction” to mean Iran was behind this plan to attack UAE embassies.

Rear Adm Heidi K. Berg, director of intelligence at the Pentagon’s Africa Command, said that Iran was behind the 15 people arrested in Ethiopia and that the “mastermind of this foiled plot”.

Tempted to say these were Chinese arms for a failed plot in Ethiopia diverted via Somalia smuggling network somewhere else. Or maybe they just didn’t get to the plot in time and were in limbo.

And I hate to admit it but the idea of these “stateless” caches of guns from unknown origin floating about reminds me of the latest story in America:

Untraceable ghost guns are now the emerging guns of choice across the nation. Nobody who could buy a serialized gun and pass a background check would ever need a ghost gun. Yet we allege Polymer80 has made it easy for anyone, including felons, to buy and build weapons that pose a major public safety threat.

The Movie “Jaws” Foreshadowed America’s Disinformation Crisis

If you want to talk about disinformation in America, “Jaws” is one of the best examples of how a simple story based on a false fear can do exceptional long lasting harm.

It is very difficult to get sharks back to what they are, correctly seen as loving and affectionate.

An example of shark reality is from 1959 to 2010 the TOTAL number of fatalities was 26 in America (0.5/year average). Only 1 in a 3.7 million chance.

For an obvious comparison in risk homeostasis, lightning data shows a 37.9/year average. That average means 1 in 180,746 Americans will be killed by lightning. And that actually is less likely even than being killed by a dog, which is 1 in 118,776!

Ok, to be fair American citizens killed by anything means we take the population total and divide by recorded deaths. The resulting number really shouldn’t be substituted for a probability because factors creep in.

Do you swim every day with sharks? Things like that make better factoring for probability.

Speaking of swimming with sharks then, here is another example of shark reality, as written by Sune Nightingale:

On a dive one day Cristina Zenato noticed a hook inside a shark’s mouth. In the end she just stuck her hand in and pulled it out. From that moment on the shark changed her behaviour and would show up on the dive and allow Cristina to stroke her, and would give Cristina a little nudge on the hip as if to say “hey I’m here”

Then other sharks started showing up wanting hooks removed…..Cristina now has a box of over 300 removed hooks.

“This is a wild animal and she’s giving me full trust…….It is something to be absolutely in awe of no matter how many times it happens …..what I developed is an appreciation for their vulnerability.”

Really changes your perception of sharks doesn’t it to see one being so cuddly and kind?

Again the odds of an American being killed by shark are about 1 in 3.7 million for everyone in the general population. It’s super remote on a generic predictive scale prone to error.

Yet here we see the odds of being killed by a shark actually even MORE remote, reaching towards zero for someone swimming with them constantly. They seem to love her and trust her.

The author of Jaws expressed his deep regrets for writing such a dangerous fiction, but obviously it did little to change the disinformation effect of his book and the movie.

“Spielberg certainly made the most superb movie; Peter was very pleased,” Wendy Benchley told Associated Press. “But Peter kept telling people the book was fiction, it was a novel, and that he took no more responsibility for the fear of sharks than Mario Puzo took responsibility for the Mafia,” she said, referring to Puzo’s screenplay and novel “The Godfather.”

“Jaws” was “entirely fiction,” Peter Benchley repeated in a London Daily Express article that appeared last week.

“Knowing what I know now, I could never write that book today,” said Benchley, who also co-wrote the screenplay for “Jaws.” “Sharks don’t target human beings, and they certainly don’t hold grudges.”

Americans target sharks and hold grudges against them. Not the other way around.

The Future-Future of Aircraft Carriers

The impressively huge Aircraft Carrier was a decisive platform in past wars and still gets a lot of airtime (pun not intended).

…when word of a crisis breaks out in Washington, it’s no accident that the first question that comes to everyone’s lips is: ‘where’s the nearest carrier?’

However, I can’t help but think about it in terms of a commoditization line over history.

What I mean to say is that there is a line that goes from the 1960s drone war being conducted on a mainframe in a few high-security buildings, all the way to warfare today being done using mobile phones in everyone’s pocket.

Take the core concept of the “carrier”. In today’s commodity technology terms I believe you get an autonomous sea box of tiny drones ready to swarm.

Source: Louisiana-based shipbuilder Metal Shark, selected to develop and implement the Long Range Unmanned Surface Vessel (LRUSV) System for the United States Marine Corps

One of the lessons of the 1980 failed operation Eagle Claw, for example, was they came up one single aircraft short of a complete mission.

Imagine telling that story instead where the numbers of aircraft launched from sea are no hurdle at all — opposite problem really, as you have surplus of highly operational units.

The sea launch platform already was pioneered a while ago by submarines launching drones out of their missile tubes. And the Navy many years ago was manually launching swarms of 50 drones. Surely by now they’ve combined these two advances into tubes at sea having a magazine attached.

Now flatten the carrier to waterline (e.g. into a Low Visibility Craft or LVC) to remove its target profile, and with a towline attach a submarine filled with sensors and tubes of hundreds or thousands or drones.

It would look like a fatter version of the 2016 Wave Glider submersible by Liquid Robotics.

Obviously this means surface vessels could easily reload by picking up another tow-line submersible, bringing resupply buoys (forward docking stations) into the picture on “long line” deployments.

Also I can’t help but mention this is very similar to what was being designed in the late 1800s and even demonstrated by Tesla himself, so we’re on a very late cycle of adoption (postponed by WWI emphasis on maintaining control over petroleum distribution).

The drones could launch undersea or on surface. Either way it’s a far more modern take on an old solution, for an even older problem in warfare.

Forensics on America’s “Patriot” platform crash

Nobody cares about sailing but if you’re nobody… I’m happy to explain exactly why “Patriot” is a great metaphor for American extreme-right politics:

Winless and when it starts to get ahead it self-destructs from easily predictable yet careless abuse of power. Did you know “Patriot” platform was a thing?

Now here is a video with some great detail on America’s “Patriot” platform crash disaster.

And here is the aftermath captured by photographers on the scene, just before it started to take on water and sink…

Credit: Fiona Goodall/Getty Images / Getty Images

Nautical forensics notables:

1) Americans are flying Airbus. I feel like I just have to say that because in the video it’s a very prominent sponsor sign. This is basically a plane turned sideways with one wing-set in the air and one wing-set below water (different medium density explains the size difference)

2) British Olympic champion “Goody” Goodison warns American Barker he sees unsafe pressure levels so slower transition (more room for error) recommended, overruled by Barker.

3) The leward backstay/runner sticks, pins the square-top main and in high gust launches the boat to 50 mph then flips it sideways and drops on its fragile side

Who Was The Pirate? Curious Case of Blackbeard’s Murder

A site called Coastal Review has a fascinating take on the events that led to Blackbeard’s untimely violent death.

Blackbeard did not prey on a single ship in the waters off the Outer Banks during his surprisingly brief 23-month career as a pirate. And, as previously stated, his pitiful camp at Ocracoke and pirate company of 15 men were hardly a threat to anyone.

[…]

Blackbeard and his friends from Bath, many of whom were killed, were unwitting pawns caught in the middle of what turned out to be a failed political coup.

Furthermore, Lt. Maynard’s 60 Royal Navy sailors acted as little more than pirates themselves.

Hao Projection: Chinese-Drawn World Map

Maps are political by nature of defining boundaries. Whoever has that authority to classify territory, gains a lot of power.

More interesting than just drawing the lines, however, is the graphical representation of 3D spaces in 2D. Many probably are familiar with the impact of the Gall-Peters map (by Arno Peters based on a 1885 James Gall paper) since the 1980s.

UNESCO promotes the use of the Gall-Peters projection, and this option is widely used in British schools. Boston became the first public school district in the United States to adopt this map as its standard in 2017.

(click to enlarge)

Lately it seems like the Gall-Peters projection opened the door to dynamic maps that try re-frame our understanding of reality in terms of coastline length.

Sailchecker, a charter company, offers us this warped view…

Speaking of coastlines, a report in 2010 by Linda Jakobson at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute called “China Prepares for an Ice-Free Arctic” shows China’s perspective on sailing through the Arctic.

(click to enlarge)

The captions label Shanghai, Rotterdam, New York, the ‘North East Sea Route’ (red) and the ‘North West Sea Route’ (blue).Source: Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration, ; map drawn by Hao Xiaoguang,

Then on 11 December 2013 the Chinese Academy of Sciences announced that the researcher (geophysicist) Hao Xiaoguang had drawn another new map of the world.

…with the authorization of National Administration of Surveying, Mapping and Geoinformation. Traditional word map is suitable for expressing the relationship of east and west hemisphere, it uses meridian to cut the global and should be called as merdian-wise world map. As contrary, the new version of world map uses prime vertical to cut the global and should be called as prime vertical-wise world map, consequently, it is suitable for expressing the relationship of north and south hemisphere. In order to express the geography relationship properly, the workshop had proposed the design scheme of series of word map since 2000 to 2002. In recent years, the new version of world map had been applied by many agencies for different scientific purpose, and the draft has been collected by State Museum, From now on, the new word map will be available in our daily life and will give us brand new geography idea.

Saying prime vertical-wise world map is a mouthful (maybe sounds better in Chinese?) and so the Hao Projection might be easier and make more sense.

(click to enlarge)

You can buy your own 1.1 meter sized relief version (3D凹凸地图 美观大方) of the Hao projection (ironically, shipping options are geographically limited) at the TMALL:

Who Caused 2018 Power Outages in Russia?

In 2018 a very important and very large dry dock facility in Roslyakovo was in the news for a horrible tragedy.

There were about 60 people on the dock when it started to sink. Five of them did not manage to get in safety. One is reported dead and four injured, one with a serious condition.

This gave me a flash back to 1984 when Severomorsk, Russia hit the news for a horrible tragedy. A navy weapons depot caught fire and exploded, killing hundreds.

…the Central Intelligence Agency learned of the accident from travelers, then positioned satellites and electronic devices to assess the damage. Those sources said the death toll was estimated at between 200 and 300 people, many of them ordnance technicians sent into the fire caused by the explosion in a desperate by unsuccessful effort to defuse or disassemble the munitions before the exploded in a chain reaction over several hours. Officials at the State and Defense Departments, as well as diplomats and congressional officials all blamed the accident on Soviet “carelessness.”

There’s even a CIA file (with a copy of Jane’s Defense Weekly and details of a criminal trial for the Navy analyst who leaked the photos) for perspective:

…U.S. District Court Judge Josepth H. Young has already ruled that Morison’s motives were irrelevant, [Assistant U.S. Attorney] Schatzow voiced skepticism about the defense claims that Morison wanted to alert the American public through the medium of a British magazine where he was seeking a full-time job. “He didn’t send it to CBS,” Schatzow declared. “He didn’t send it to The Washington Post. He sent it to Jane’s.”

That Jane’s disclosure story from 1984 points out an ammunition dump also exploded in the Bobruysk airfield (Belarus), and at the end of the prior year ammunition exploded in the Dolon (Kazakhstan) airfield and two more ammunition depots exploded after that… by June there was a huge explosion in Schwerin. So the CIA file in fact shows Murmansk was the fifth or sixth Soviet safety disaster a row.

And that’s not to mention, or who can forget, the April 26, 1986 disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant?

Way back in 1984 there would have been “travelers” to inform intelligence agents about a disaster. In 2018 terms there instead is monitoring of social media accounts to start the discussion about the tragic sinking of a massive dock.

And from that angle the 2018 news of disaster reads at first like it should get a footnote similar to the 1984 official commentary: Russia continues to be known for operations fraud, “carelessness” and decay.

Maybe there’s nothing more to this story than just people discussing a tragedy resulting from bad safety practices:

…the dry dock has itself had repeated problems with its aging technical equipment, including the electricity system…

Reports mentioned sub-par maintenance of a huge floating platform built by Sweden in 1980, neglected since, with possible criminal charges for the private owners of the dock. Rosneft bought 2015 for its “oil operations”, which in terms of Russian oligarchical corruption means transfer of government funds to someone’s pockets by forcing major Navy repairs into private hands.

That makes the most simple explanation of disaster very believable: when a power outage hit the dock’s huge ballast tanks they failed-unsafe because of careless management. When a power outage hit that floating dock it predictably filled up with water and sank.

The subsequent lawsuits probably say something like Rosneft cut safety corners to increase profits, as one expects from an unregulated/monopolized market — the only dock big enough for the Russian navy to do repairs on its fleet.

It’s an unbelievably unfortunate operations situation coupled with a design flaw someone must have known about for a long time, especially given a history of having unstable power sources in that region.

A very predictable disaster.

Yet such a vulnerability makes it too tempting to not float the idea that this is also was fertile ground for someone hunting for easy cyber attack targets.

Again, the basic narrative since 1984 of Russian carelessness still makes sense. Yet early 2018 also saw a series of electricity “hacks” on America purported to originate from Russia.

For a little context from 2018, two years earlier the U.S. loudly warned that its “military hackers have penetrated Russia’s electric grid…for cyber attacks that could turn out the lights…”.

A month after these 2016 U.S. statements, the Russian city of Murmansk experienced a massive energy blackout. It was blamed on an intentional short circuit at the Kolenergo substation.

The acts were done near a city block in the street of Knipovich, Nikora said in an extraordinary meeting in the regional Staff of power security. It is not clear who was behind the acts, nor whether it is consider as deliberate sabotage or result of an accident.

That’s kind of important context, given how two years later rolling power outages hit the same region, sinking the largest dock in Russia and crippling their global navy operations. Even if not a cyber attack, you can’t say a fail-unsafe design makes any sense for the dock.

The most interesting run-up to the power outages in 2018 perhaps starts months earlier when the Wall Street Journal reported that Russia was trying to boast they had breached America’s power grid:

Hackers working for Russia claimed “hundreds of victims” last year in a giant and long-running campaign that put them inside the control rooms of U.S. electric utilities…

It was thus after aggressive hacking claims by Russia that it faced:

…several cases of power outage all over the [northwest] region, including in the cities of Severomorsk and Murmansk…

These power outage cases not only crippled Russia’s ability to manage its fleets by sinking their largest Naval dock, they also damaged Russia’s only aircraft carrier in the dock failure (Admiral Kuznetsov, which had been serving in Syria to infamously carry out air strikes yet losing two aircraft during routine landings).

Again, it has to be emphasized Russia earned itself a reputation for carelessness and predictable self-inflicted disasters. There may have been no cyber attacks at all and disasters still could have happened from decay or “incredibly easy” physical attacks.

Just a year after the dock sank, that same one and only aircraft carrier caught fire during repairs, blamed on a short circuit.

The Admiral Kuznetsov, Russia’s only aircraft carrier, caught fire today during repairs in Murmansk. While officials of the shipyard said that no shipyard workers were injured, Russia’s TASS news service reports that at least 12 people (likely Kuznetsov sailors) were injured, some critically. In addition, three people, possibly including the third-rank captain in charge of the ship’s repairs, are unaccounted for.

The Kuznetsov has had a long string of bad luck, experiencing fires at sea, oil spills, and landing deck accidents…

It’s hard to prove a cyber attack hit a country causing a power outage when that country is so bad at operations, but that’s exactly the point. The Stuxnet attack targeted a facility that already was suffering under something like a 30% failure from rust and basic operations failures.

This is why timing of the 2018 power outages in Russia shortly after its boasts about hacking can make for interesting reading. Despite the lack of any real details or news from the cities in Russia affected, I’ll be surprised if historians don’t find out more here by poking around.

Perhaps US Admiral Stavridis put it best in October 2016 when he quoted a Russian proverb: “Probe with bayonets. When you hit mush, proceed.”

Captain Morgan Hated Being Called a Pirate Because He Hated Democracy

Someone just suggested to me that the Spanish loved pirates while the British hated them.

This isn’t even remotely true and it reminded me how a Spanish city official (Don Juan Pérez de Guzmán, a decorated veteran of wars in Flanders) once called Britain’s Captain Morgan a pirate, using that term to insult him as those aspiring to monarchy hated pirates.

The story then goes Morgan indeed hated the exchange and was so enraged that he planned a devastatingly brutal siege of the Spanish city Guzmán defended, torturing residents and pillaging the area for weeks just to prove he was no pirate.

Here’s how one historian has referred to Morgan’s style of leadership:

Behind him were smoldering ruins, pestilence, poverty, misery and death.

A first-person’s account of Morgan’s battles was written by Alexandre Exquemelin, a doctor serving him, in a book called Buccaneers of America. Exqumelin wrote that Morgan lashed together Spanish nuns and priests to use as human shields while he attacked the Spanish military, and that he regularly imprisoned and raped women.

Painting that Morgan commissioned of himself, documenting his boyish and elitist clean-shaven look, while “under arrest” in London after 1672. Source: National Trust of the United Kingdom
Captain Morgan’s vicious retort to his critics — as in the violent argument he waged upon the Spanish, burning their cities to the ground — was that he was a proud privateer in service of the British monarchy during a war (Governor of Jamaica in 1667 gave Morgan a letter of marque to attack Spanish ships).

Morgan thus ran an autocratic and ruthless mercenary operation on behalf of a Crown authority. He was accused by his own men of “cheating” them of promised wages and benefits as he pillaged cities, a military campaign he wasn’t even authorized to do (again, just to be overly pedantic, his letter of marque was to attack ships only, nothing on land).

The privateer life meant public forms of immoral service to a monarchy of questionable values (ultimately atrocity crime charges against him were dismissed and instead he received a plush reward by appointment to government, which also is where Morgan proudly owned hundreds of slaves that operated Jamaican sugar plantations).

Thus, how dare anyone accuse him of being a liberal pirate or try to imply he was fair to his followers or a representative/elected leader?

He would surely have tortured and killed someone if they did accuse him of being so democratic.

In that sense, pirates seem to have been operating somewhat as entrepreneurs challenging the brutality of unjust political systems of monarchy.

Pirates fought against those who had expressly denied human rights and trafficked in human exploitation. They weren’t going to fight in wars that benefited only a few elites, because Pirates also were known to use a democratic system of leadership based on votes and qualifications (given nobody was born into office or summarily appointed by royalty).

Privateers functioned almost in the exact opposite way to pirates while appearing similar; business operators appointed by authority who served awful political systems to exploit high-risk and unregulated markets. Privateers like Morgan operated as ruthless mercenaries in privileged positions of milking their own corrupt system for large personal gain.

It’s a significant difference between an owner-operator business in highly distributed undefined territory (pirate) versus exploitative vigilantism (privateer).

Confusing? Somehow pirates have become associated with the latter when historically they have operated far more as the former.

The important difference perhaps is best explained in Chapter 8 of “The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates” by Peter T. Leeson

The Captain Morgan brand of liquor thus has popularized a man who promulgated human trafficking, rape, theft, murder and authoritarianism. Don’t call him a pirate.

It reminds me of Hitler wine.