The recent pirate attack on the Maersk Alabama in the Gulf of Aden, and the rescue of her captain, Richard Phillips, after U.S. naval SEAL snipers killed his three Somali captors, is likely to increase interest in a forthcoming book by Canadian author, journalist and documentary filmmaker, Daniel Sekulich (DS). He maintains his own blog site, Modern Day Pirate Tales, and his Terror on the Seas: True Tales of Modern Day Pirates is due out from St. Martin’s in June.
I was able to chat with the author (left) online this afternoon.
MH: What avocation or hobby of yours first led to your interest in today’s pirate terrorism?
DS: I’ve always had an interest in political and social issues, especially with regard to seeing how events that occur in some other part of the planet can have an impact here at home, and all of this came together when I began to look at piracy, because it is about crime, it is about geo-politics, it is about poverty and it is about lawlessness. The genesis for this new book goes back five or six years, while interviewing mariners for my previous book, Ocean Titans. The stories I kept hearing surprised me, but it was even more shocking when I began to discover that the real number of pirate incidents are two to three times what’s being officially reported. And though there was little interest in the topic at the time – I can’t tell you how many publishers passed on the proposal – I really felt it would be a good story and was something I wanted to commit to seeing through.
MH: Your book shows the dangers in international waters for all kinds of ocean-going vessels in many regions. You undertook interviews not only with a range of victims, but with perpetrators. What was the hardest interview for you and what information was the most surprising?
DS: The hardest interview to get was with an Indonesian man who had been part of a pirate gang operating near Jakarta. That one took months to finally arrange. But I also went to great lengths tracking down the victims of pirate attacks – people living in the slums of Mombasa, along the Malaysian coast or even in the U.S. – and they weren’t easy to do, either. It’s exceedingly time-consuming to get to some of these places, build relationships with the people and gain enough trust to get them to speak openly with you, but the results can be dramatic, such as the Kenyan man I met who’d been held hostage by pirates for a hundred days and been crushed by the experience.
MH: Readers tend to have a somewhat romantic notion of the villainous pirates of earlier times, but would you say in fact that they were just as criminal and dangerous in their times as the pirates of today are in ours? Is the comparison pointless?
DS: For the most part, I think that pirates have always been ruthless criminals willing to use violence as they prey upon others, whether we’re talking of Blackbeard or Somali pirates. Anyone looking for romantic sentiments about today’s pirates in my book will be disappointed, for I have little sympathy for their actions. In my view, piracy today is an even more serious threat than in times past, so much so that I call piracy the world’s longest running, low-level armed conflict. It’s been carried out for thousands of years against a community with its own traditions, history and even language: seafarers. And few of these victims feel any sympathy to pirates.
MH: So our era of pirates will not be inspiring books equivalent to Treasure Island or Captain Blood, but is there a particular modern-day pirate thriller that you’ve read and would recommend?
DS: Unfortunately, there is precious little fiction written about modern day piracy. The subject is more attractive to the non-fiction genre, and also to movies and television (indeed, I dare say we can expect to see a movie coming out about the recent run-in between Americans and Somalis). However, one of the most interesting pirate books I’ve read in recent years is Stephan Talty’s Empire of Blue Water (Crown Publishers, 2007). It’s a non-fiction look at the famous 17th-century Welsh pirate Captain Henry Morgan, but Talty’s book reads like a piece of historical fiction, evoking Patrick O’Brian. I recommend it thoroughly.
MH: Along with your book, Talty’s new book, The Illustrious Dead, on what really stopped Napoleon’s march to Moscow, comes out in June and will be reviewed in a forthcoming issue of LJ. Thanks for your time!