Freeport has not been in a formal war for years, but as a major port, it must maintain a fleet. Sea Lord Cromey established the Admiralty to oversee all aspects of Freeport’s naval defenses. In the ensuing years, the Admiralty has pursued a three-part strategy to safeguard Freeport.
First, it maintains the fleet proper. The official Freeport navy is small, consisting of a dozen ships of various sizes. Its main job is to patrol the waters around A’Val and keep the sea lanes safe. This duty is ironic in view of the city’s past, but it’s in Freeport’s best interest to keep trade flowing through the city. Considering the advantages Freeport offers pirates, it isn’t too much to ask that they do their hunting elsewhere. Still, the buccaneers are a hotheaded bunch, and sometimes they just can’t resist a juicy target. Such rogue activity is the fleet’s greatest concern, followed by monster attacks and the like.
Second, the Admiralty maintains Freeport’s unofficial fleet, the privateers. Early Sea Lords realized no law could take the pirate spirit out of Freeport’s sailors. With typical pragmatism, that spirit was turned into a moneymaking scheme. For nearly two hundred years, Freeport has hired out its freebooters to other nations as “privateers” (a fancy name for legalized pirates). The Admiralty sells Letters of Marque to ship captains, allowing them to fly Freeport’s flag while attacking the ships of designated nations, thus making them “legal” combatants and protecting them from charges of piracy.
The city makes money in two different ways under this scheme: selling Letters of Marque and selling the privateers’ services to foreign nations. This plan creates huge business for Freeport, so much so that privateers have their own representative on the Captains’ Council (currently Captain Tench Prescott). When wars get hot, the privateers may switch sides repeatedly, as the various combatants offer increasingly huge amounts of gold for their aid. Due to limits of communication, the Admiralty has formalized the bidding process. One week every three months, the Admiralty opens its doors to foreign dignitaries, and each tries to outbid the others and secure the Freeport ships for his own government. Active privateers make a point of being in port at this time, so they can get up-to-date information on the next season’s enemies. Once a deal has been struck and money changes hands, new Letters of Marque are purchased and the privateers put to sea.
Office of Dredging
The Admiralty’s secret weapon is the Office of Dredging. This small and unassuming branch of the Admiralty purports to busy itself with the improvement of Freeport’s harbor and the clearing of underwater hazards, but its real function is spying. The Office of Dredging maintains a spy ring in the navy of every major Continental power. These men and women pass on all sorts of information, although technically they are supposed to concentrate on threats to Freeport’s security. The members of the Office of Dredging are fierce rivals of Captain Roberts’s spy network. They consider Roberts and his ilk rank amateurs, while Roberts maintains that the “Dredgers” are slow-witted and afraid to take risks.