"Yes I am a pirate,
200 years too late,
The cannons don't' thunder, there's nothing to plunder
I'm an over forty victim of fate."
- Jimmy Buffet
By Captain Paul Watson
"Shiver me timbers boys and girls, we is awash in a sea of pirates down here."
The Southern Oceans, specifically in the area formally known as the Australian Antarctic Territory, now rivals the 17th Century Caribbean for the reported acts of piracy during the last two weeks.
The Japanese whalers are accusing Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace crewmembers of being pirates. Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace are accusing the whalers of being pirates. Australian and New Zealand politicians are throwing the word piracy about as freely as the Governor of Jamaica once did a few hundred years ago.
Forget about going to Disneyland to see Pirates of the Caribbean. We now have the new, improved Pirates of the Southern Oceans.
No one has actually sunk any ships, looted any cargos, kidnapped any damsels or forced anyone to walk the plank yet, but to listening to the rhetoric, the public can be forgiven from thinking these activities are about to happen.
My ship the Farley Mowat does fly a modern version of the "pretty red" or "jolie rouge," the original name of the banner that evolved years ago into the black and white skull and crossbones which came to be known as the Jolly Roger.
We decided years ago that if people were going to be silly and call us pirates we would adopt our own Jolly Roger. Thus we designed the crossed Neptune Trident and Shepherd's staff with the skull. Set in the skull are a whale and dolphin in a yin yang design.
As soon as we hoisted that black flag, kids from around the world began to write us in support. Our Jolly Roger hats and shirts have become our most popular merchandise.
Why? Because there is a romance of piracy that is separate from the reality of piracy. Some pirates were great heroes and some were dastardly villains.
Back in the 17th Century it was not the British Navy that shut down piracy in the Caribbean. They and the British politicians were not interested. Captain Horatio Nelson was actually sued by British merchants for attempting to shut down piracy. There was simply too much money in the form of bribery and collusion to motivate more than an appearance of addressing the problem.
Piracy was finally shut down on the Spanish Main by the pirate Henry Morgan. It took a pirate to end piracy. His reward was that he was appointed Governor of Jamaica where he was able to pilfer more booty through politics than he ever did from the deck of a ship.
There are pirates of profit like the Japanese, pirates of opportunity like the politicians, and pirates of compassion like Sea Shepherd.
It is a little difficult to cast Sea Shepherd unpaid volunteers selflessly and legally trying to save the lives of whales as ruthless pirates. On the other hand, the Japanese whalers are illegally stealing and killing whales from a Sanctuary for whales and from the territory that is supposed to under the authority of Australia.
Which brings us to the motivation of those pirates in Canberra? What is in it for them that they consistently refuse to protect Australian territory from illegal foreign exploitation?
The answer is the same for Australian politicians today as it was for British politicians in 1650 - there's money to be made, under the table and through the back door, trade agreements to consider and after all, some pirates especially the Japanese, have good public relations firms and powerful financial backing.
So, we have Australia backing the bad pirates and condemning the good pirates.
But piracy has a long list of renowned and admirable practitioners. It was the pirate John Paul Jones who founded both the navies of the United States and Russia. It was the pirate Jean LaFitte who stood with General Andrew Jackson in defense of New Orleans. It was the pirate Francis Drake who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I.
So, I stand in honorable company as a modern day pirate. I've not shot anyone, burned any ships, looted any cargos, kidnapped anyone, nor do I drink rum and carry a parrot on my shoulder for that matter.
What I do is defend the whales from the illegal slaughter by ruthless and merciless killers of whales. If people want to call me a pirate for that than blow me down buckos, I'm proud to be a damn pirate.