Tuesday, September 30, 2008
MARITIME PIRACY AND ECONOMIC CHAOS IN OLD MANILA
According to the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center, there has been an alarming surge in pirate attacks worldwide. Africa remains the world's top piracy hotspot, with 24 reported attacks in Somalia and 18 in Nigeria this year.
Recently, Somali pirates seized the cargo ship Faina off the coast of Somalia on Thursday as it headed to Kenya. The Ukrainian-operated ship is carrying ordnance ordered by the Kenyan government, which ncludes 33 Russian-built T-72 tanks and a substantial amount of ammunition and spare parts.
The pirates are demanding a $20 million ransom to release the Faina and its crew. Although the Kenyan government stands firm in its policy not to negotiate with pirates or terrorists, what's on board deeply concerns five nations — Ukraine, Somalia, Russia, the United States and Britain — and have been sharing information to try to secure the swift release of the ship and its 21-member crew.
Meanwhile, in America, in its attempt to thwart a shattering financial crisis with major global repercussion, the Bush administration and congressional leaders agreed on a deal to authorize the biggest banking rescue in U.S. history — the $700 billion bail out program.
According to the Wall Street Journal, at its core is Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's concept of buying impaired mortgage-related assets from financial firms — giving them cash to replace the toxic debts that have put them in danger or dissuaded them from lending. The plan is to help the firms restore their capital bases as well as the trust that enables them to borrow and lend at reasonable terms. Without this, officials worry that the credit markets, the lifeblood of the U.S. economy, would grind to a halt.
An extraordinary week of talks unfolded after Paulson and Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, went to Congress 10 days ago with ominous warnings about a full-blown economic meltdown if lawmakers did not act quickly to infuse huge amounts of government money into a financial sector buckling under the weight of toxic debt.
These two crises — maritime piracy and economic turmoil — in one fell swoop, at one point during the 16th century, similarly roiled in and shocked Manila.
In the early morning of November 4, 1587, in the bay of Augua Segura or Puerto Seguro, now named San Jose del Cabo somewhere in the tip of Baja California, the English pirates led by Thomas Cavendish sighted the galleon ship Santa Ana, on her way to Cabo San Lucas at the tip of Lower California to make a landfall and check her course prior to continuing on to Acapulco.
Cavendish's ships, the Desire and Content gave chase with all sail. It was afternoon when they came up broadside with the Santa Ana — tagged as the "great rich ship" — under the command of Tomas de Alzola. It left the port of Cavite the last week of June, some four-and-a-half months earlier.
The English ships attacked the Santa Ana with full force, killing and maiming many of its men who fought valiantly and refused to surrender. After about six hours of intense resistance and having suffered heavy loses — with the hull of Santa Ana also sustaining a canon blast at the waterline — Captain Tomas de Alzola finally hung out a flag of surrender.
In spite of the the disparity in size of the ships — the Santa Ana had a tonnage of 700, while the Desire and the Content were of 120 and 60 tons, respectively — the odds of the battle was overwhelmingly in favor of the British. The Santa Ana lacked the necessary artillery and fire power. Cavendish's Desire alone mounted eighteen guns, while the Content had ten.
In a report to the king from Manila, Governor de Vera wrote that the capture of the Santa Ana came as a surprise since the galleon routes were kept a secret and no other but Spanish ships had been sighted on the these galleon routes for years.
Cavendish and his men were all praise, however, for the courage of Captain Alzola and his crew, which included Filipinos, for fighting up to the end.
The Santa Ana carried 122,000 pieces of gold and a cargo of fine pearls, silks, satins, damasks, musks, and other merchandise of the East Indies, as well as ample supply of all kinds of foods and wines. The royal treasurer in Manila provided a more detailed report: the Santa Ana carried 2,300 marks of gold, equivalent to 84.2 pounds avoirdupois; not to mention a large amount of gold that had not been registered. The total sale value of the Santa Ana's cargo in Mexico would have been over two million pesos, which represented an original investment in Manila of more than one million pesos.
The Spaniards in Manila were further infuriated upon fully realizing the extent of Cavendish's depredation, which consequently, created a severe economic meltdown in Manila. Bankruptcy, poverty and severe despondency were experienced by many members of the city's trading community, including a substantial number of inhabitants and soldiers.
Besides the daring piracy that Cavendish conducted in the waters considered by the Spanish as the exclusive domain of their king, it was his youth (barely in his twenties) along with an inferior sea vessel manned no more than fifty men — who trespassed their domain and got away with it — that ultimately left the Spaniards in Manila feeling unbearably weak and inadequate.
During the 250 years of the galleon trade, the sea claimed dozens of ships, thousands of men and many millions in treasures. As the richest ships in all the oceans, the galleons were the most coveted prize of pirates and privateers. Four were taken by the English — the Santa Ana in 1587, the Encarnacion in 1709, the Covadonga in 1743, and the Santisima Trinidad (the largest ship in her time) in 1762.
The first to fall was the Santa Ana, a prize catch that went to the Englishman Thomas Cavendish. His brazen act of maritime piracy eventually precipitated an economic turmoil that startled the Spanish regime in old Manila.
The Filipino Seamanship
© 2008 Señor Enrique
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posted by Señor Enrique at 4:13 AM
- nutart said...
This post is so apt of the times as well, Eric. Parang Time stands still but with the characters just changing clothes and venues. With the Somali piracy, the Congress voting the bail out down and another crash of Wall Street in the near future...Life will go on!
These people (who are the main guys of these scenarios) have something to learn which they have to LEARN! I am always reminded of Bill Murray's "Groundhog Day" movie. Parang it is a classic case of reincarnation. In this concept, the pirates and the ship crew continue playing a script/movie where they battle each other. At other lifetimes changing roles---from bad guy to good guy and vice-versa. Until they perhaps learn to go beyond that consciousness of gold, guns and goons. Wrong scenario ata yan kasi di ba connected din yan with politics (hehe).
Your narrative of the galleon trade also made my imagination going, Eric. I imagine a battle in the midst of a wide expanse of sea! Deeep waters and nowhere to go if you have to run for dear life. I would have been the cowardest of the crew since I wouldn't find any reason to guard those treasures for the king :-). All those movies about pirates are sheer nonsense for me. All I can see are sacrifices for a lot of baubles. Saan kaya nila dadalhin iyon pagkatapos nakawin?
- Senor Enrique said...
"Wrong scenario ata yan kasi di ba connected din yan with politics (hehe)."
Very much so, Bernadette! Cavendish's adventure, though privately funded, received the blessings of the Queen of England, and there were unsupported reports that Cavendish was knighted by the Queen afterwards.
Moreover, it was the war which broke out officially between England and Spain in 1586 that basically gave the green light for these English pirates and privateers to hunt, attack and loot the Spanish galleons.
Like you, I find the thought of sailing the wide open seas and possibly encountering hostile maritime bandits petrifying. Yet there have been current reports of some Filipino seamen having been captured by pirates off the coast of Somalia.
I tip my hat off to the seafarers throughout our history. The discoveries they have made were immense and the dangers they encountered, incredible.
Now, here's something I'd like to share with you: Leon Klinghoffer, the man thrown overboard the passenger liner Achille Lauro by four PLF hijackers/terrorists headed by Mohammed Abbas in 1985, was the husband of Marilyn who was an executive at a New York publishing firm where I worked.
It was Marilyn who first interviewed me, and although under-qualified for the position I was applying for, she must've been charmed if not dumb-founded by my audacity (hehehe), and thereby arranged the ensuing five interviews (with publishers and managers). I'd like to think that it was her vote of confidence that mainly got me hired. In appreciation, I made her proud of me while I was with the firm :)
Years later, she was very much saddened when I quit to work at the music industry. I did, however, kept in touched, and often ran into her with her husband down the village where they lived. One of her two daughters is an artist.
- nutart said...
Gasp! so, what happened to Leon Klinghoffer???
Come to think of it, Eric, seafarers had made/molded history what the world is today. Without Columbus, Magellan with their documentists, we might probably still think the world was flat...that the New World was non-existent. And building those massive boats also denuded large tracts of forests (heehee).
I'm really really curious though what happened to Leon Klinghoffer (ang kulit, no?)
- Senor Enrique said...
Leon was first shot, I believe, and then thrown overboard, Bernadette :(
Yes, can you imagine sailing out to the wide open sea and believing that the world is flat, and that at some point in time the ship you're on will fall off to oblivion. Ghastly ... hehehe! Yet, many seamen sailed out to explore.
The invention of the sextant, I think, was a major boon to maritime navigation.
- bw said...
great piece of historical information Eric. Thanks for sharing :)
- Senor Enrique said...
My pleasure, BW. Glad you enjoyed it :)