February 17, 2012

rancesco Schettino who was Captain of the Costa Concordia when it ran aground in Italy remains under house arrest. He’s

charged, or potentially charged, with leaving his ship while the crew and passengers were still aboard. Is it a crime to do so?

I’d be surprised if the Italian government didn’t come up with a crime of some sort after the embarrassment caused by the entire incident.  That’s the way governments are. Maybe they’ll make it a crime not to go down with your ship. That would be tough to do when your ship doesn’t go down, but just lays there half under water. I’m sure an Italian court will tell us what his duty was under those circumstances.

During the Civil War the Confederate submarine CSS Hunley launched the first submarine attack ever on the Union sloop USS Housatonic in Charleston Harbor. The Hunley blew a hole in the Housatonic killing 5 Union sailors. The Housatonic settled on the bottom of the harbor with all of its rigging sticking out of the water. The survivors promptly climbed into the rigging and waited for rescue. In the meantime the Hunley went down killing all 8 crewmen.

Michigan Magazine will feature an article on Dan Seavey next month. Dan, also known as “Roaring Dan Seavey” was the first and only man ever prosecuted for piracy on the Great Lakes. Seavey lived in Escanaba, Michigan back in 1900 and earned his living selling illegal venison, wrecking ships and stealing their cargo, sailing into harbors and taking cargo from anchored ships, and transporting prostitutes. He did it with his ship the Wanderer, operating mainly in Lake Michigan.

What got Roaring Dan in jail was the stealing of the ship Nellie Johnson from the harbor at Grand Haven. Captured by the revenue cutter, Tuscarora, Dan was arrested and taken to Chicago June 29, 1908 and prosecuted for piracy. He beat the rap when the owner of the Nellie Johnson didn’t show up for the trial. If you want to see a picture of Dan, buy a bottle of Roaring Dan’s maple flavored rum which is distilled in Wisconsin. His picture is on the label. In his later years Dan became a US Marshall.

Captain Nat Gordon didn’t have such good luck. He was the only ship captain executed for smuggling slaves into the United States.

The Piracy Law of 1820 made it illegal to bring slaves into the country. Nonetheless, there were plenty of people willing to break the law to make money in the slave trade. Colonel James Bowie of Bowie Knife and Alamo fame, along with his brothers bought 1500 slaves from Jean Lafitte and transported them from Texas to Louisiana. For doing so these American heroes made a profit of $65,000. That was ton of money in the 1800’s.

In 1860 Captain Nat Gordon brought 897 slaves from West Africa to the U.S. Captured by the USS Mohican, Gordon

Was taken to New York City and prosecuted in 1862. This was in the first year of the Civil War and the Union was in no mood to coddle slave traders. Found guilty he was hung and became the only ship Captain to be executed for smuggling slaves. His distinction was lost in the deaths of 618,000 Americans over the next three years over slavery.

I guess being first isn’t always being best.

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