HL Deb 01 August 1854 vol 135 cc1062-4

in putting a question of which he had given notice on the subject of the Riff, to his noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, said, that our commerce on the highway of the Mediterranean had of late been much exposed to attack by a body of men known as the "Riff Pirates," who amounted in number, he believed, to 4,000 or 5,000, and who occupied a situation on the coast of Morocco, about 120 miles from Gibraltar. They lived under the immediate rule of their own chiefs or sheiks, but were tributaries or subjects of the Emperor of Morocco, and had lately become known as being most dangerous to the trade of all nations. The matter was of the more importance inasmuch as the position they occupied was on the direct highway of the commerce to the East and the Mediterranean, and it was of the highest importance that some measures should be taken to check their piratical proceedings. They were, he believed, first heard of in 1851, when they made a piratical attack on a vessel of this country, named the Violet, belonging to Wisbeach, which was treated in the manner customary with pirates, having been attacked and plundered, the master wounded, and the mate killed. The Government on that occasion sent a vessel of war to inquire into the circumstances, with a view to revenge the attack and bring away the plunder if possible. That vessel was received in a warlike manlier, but it succeeded in bringing away the captured vessel; and he was not quite certain, but he believed she was obliged to return with her captain and some of her men wounded. That was in 1851; but as late as June or July last a vessel coming from Malta to England, named the Cuthbert Young, of Newcastle, was treated in the same manner, and the Prometheus was sent out to recover her, and to do what she could against the pirates; whether she succeeded or not he did not know, one statement being that she brought back the hull of the captured vessel, and another that she did not succeed; but, at all events, it was established that those pirates were ready for any sort of work, and committed great ravages. As the case now stood, he believed that the Government had only thought it necessary to deal with it by advertising traders to beware of that coast. But, having served in the Mediterranean many years of his life, he knew it was not very easy in passing through the Straits of Gibraltar to keep clear of it, as a current set in that direction, and vessels were driven on it whether they would or not; the consequence of which was, that it proved a capital trap for those men, giving them a position in which they could deal with the vessels as they liked. It did appear to him that something more was necessary to be done than the course taken by the Government of giving notice at Lloyd's that it was a dangerous coast; and he thought if the Government were not prepared to deal with those people by any measures of a warlike character, there should be at least a steam cruiser constantly there as a sentry for the protection of trade. The question which he wished to put to his noble Friend was, whether the Government intended to take any, and what, steps for the safety of trade with respect to these pirates?


said, the subject had long occupied the attention of Her Majesty's Government. Four or five cases of piracy had happened since 1847, and applications had been made in the matter; but the difficulty of dealing with those men was, that they occupied a portion of the territory of the Emperor of Morocco, and were his subjects. In that state of affairs, an application had been made to the Emperor, of Morocco to prevent the continuance of these depredations; but the Emperor professed his inability to do so, when Her Majesty's Government then informed him that they would undertake to do it irrespective of his assistance. In the case to which his noble Friend had alluded—that of the Cuthbert Young—the vessel which was ordered to look out for the pirates immediately went to the coast and recaptured the vessel, which was defended by the pirates, who were fired at and shelled, and there was reason to believe that they sustained considerable loss. The main difficulty of dealing with these people, however, appeared to be the necessity for a land force, and, with respect to that question there might be at this moment some delay; but he could assure his noble Friend that the attention of the Government had been directed to the subject, and there was a vessel now at Gibraltar specially charged to watch that coast for the protection of vessels passing through those straits.

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