On July 10, the Bahamas celebrated the 42nd anniversary of its independence from Great Britain. The islands that make up this Caribbean nation have become a must-see tourist destination over the past decades, while Nassau, the capital, has a history that is currently being glorified by Hollywood. The TV series ‘Black Sails,’ aired on the Starz network, depicts what life was like in Nassau in the early 18th century when pirates ruled the Caribbean.
‘Black Sails’ is loosely based on a combination of real-life pirates and the popular book Treasure Island. The show focuses on real-life characters, like Charles Vane, and the fictional Captain J. Flint, pirates who made a profit from robbing merchant ships. The stolen bounty is then brought back to New Providence Island (where Nassau is located), where it is resold via the island’s black market. Both Vane and Flint share the utopian goal of Nassau becoming an independent nation, free from the threat of a British invasion. (I will skip the other subplots).
There is little threat of pirates taking over Nassau nowadays, but crime, both in the maritime waters and in the plethora of islands that makes up the country, remains a major problem. The smuggling of illegal narcotics is of particular concern due to the volume of the contraband – this is best exemplified by “Operation Take Down,” which took place in Nassau in early July. The police operation searched a home and found 100 pounds of marijuana, with a street value of $100,000 USD. Moreover, smuggling in Bahamian waters continues. In 2014, the security forces of the Bahamas detained a speedboat off Long Island; two men were arrested and a cargo of 37 bales of marijuana, worth a whopping $1.3 million USD, was seized. Despite the success of law enforcement officials, the area continues to be regarded as an attractive corridor for drug trafficking. In early June, the U.S. Coast Guard seized a vessel off Andros Island, which carried an impressive cargo of 985 pounds of marijuana (street value at $1 million USD).
While the sword and pistol fights depicted in ‘Black Sails’ may make for good television, weapons in the hands of criminals continue to threaten security in the modern-day Bahamas. On July 3, police officers from the Drug Enforcement Unit seized an AK-47 rifle, a Browning .308 rifle, and 974 live rounds of ammunition in a trailer in Long Island.
Finally, one major plot of ‘Black Sails’ revolves around the pirates avoiding a British invasion, as London wants to regain control over its lost territory. Nowadays, the government in Nassau has cordial relations with both London and Washington. In fact, just this past June, U.S. Assistant Secretary for the Western Hemisphere Roberta Jacobson travelled to the Bahamian capital for a meeting of the United States-Caribbean high-level citizen security dialogue to promote regional cooperation and address common threats. The meeting falls under the umbrella of the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, which is Washington’s overall strategy for the Caribbean. The State Department explains that the CBSI aims to combat illicit trafficking, increase security, and promote social justice. Washington will certainly keep an eye on the Bahamas, given its close proximity to the United States, ongoing smuggling, and a curious fact: the aforementioned Andros Island is the location of the secretive Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center, where the U.S. Navy tests maritime weapons.
Thus, it is no surprise that both the American and British navies are actively supporting their Bahamian counterparts’ efforts to crack down on regional crimes. Apart from the U.S. Coast Guard operating in the area, the British HMS Severn made a port-call at Nassau Harbour this past January in order to carry out exercises with its local counterparts. In statements picked up by Bahamas Information Services, the British High Commissioner, His Excellency David Fitton explained that the British ship is “work[ing] with the regional Defense Force’s interdiction of drug smugglers, sometimes migration smugglers, and arms smugglers even. The most common one they work on here is drug smuggling.”
The Bahamas recently celebrated over four decades of independence from the United Kingdom — a dream for which the characters of the popular series ‘Black Sails’ fought. But romantic quest for independence aside, crimes like drug smuggling are a serious real-world problem for Nassau. The criminal elements depicted in ‘Black Sails’ are entertaining, but in the 21st century, the Bahamas needs a strong security force and regional allies (even its former colonial rulers) in order to prevent the rise of Charles Vane-like criminals.