Then & Now: Ocean Terrors

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The Independent Online
December, 1841: The 'Viscount Melbourne', while sailing from Singapore to Hong Kong, was wrecked off Brunei. The crew and passengers took to the boats and headed back for Singapore, 600 miles away, but were overtaken by Malay pirates in a 'prahu' disguised as a fishing sloop. Rayner Thrower's book, 'The Pirate Picture', gives a junior officer's account:

'The prahu's decks were crowded with Malays armed with poisonous crooked swords, clubs, spears and guns. They jumped into our boat, seized upon us and would, I think, have despatched us at once, had it not been for the interference of their chief. The pirates began to clear the gig of everything - clothes, provisions, and even our last drop of water, for the sake of the keg. Then they took whatever watches and rings they found. Satisfied at last, they let the English go, with a parting present of a basket of sago and three pints of water.'

October, 1992: The world's first piracy warning centre was opened in response to increasingly violent attacks on shipping fleets, mostly in the South China Sea. One such attack was described by Captain Kenneth Miller in the 'Guardian'. Two fishing boats in front of his ship had forced it to change course. The next thing the crew knew, the ship was invaded.

'There were four men in my cabin armed with swords and long knives. One, who spoke excellent English, said: 'If you make a noise I will kill you.' He said he wanted money from the ship's safe. They dragged two gold rings off my fingers and pulled my watch off. My hands were tied with twine. They were experts, they knew exactly what to do.'

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