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Julian Lee

The U.S. Brings State-Sponsored Piracy Into the 21st Century

America seizing cargoes from four oil tankers conjures images of British privateers attacking Spanish treasure fleets in the late 1500s.

A throwback to the 16th century.

A throwback to the 16th century.

Photographer: Joel W. Rogers/Corbis Documentary RF

It was definitely the 21st century when I went to sleep Thursday night, but by Friday morning it was starting to feel as though I’d slipped back in time a few hundred years, to an age of state-sponsored piracy. 

News that the U.S. had seized the cargoes of four oil tankers, allegedly carrying Iranian gasoline from the Persian Gulf to Venezuela, conjured images of British privateers — in essence, state-sponsored pirates — attacking Spanish treasure fleets carrying gold, silver and precious stones from the New World back to Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries.