Every Halloween or fancy dress party, for adults and kids, you can be fairly confident you’ll encounter a pirate. The idea of the stereotypical pirate is exciting and romantic, sometimes comical, and he is a familiar sight in popular culture.
In the 1990s, someone even invented the annual International Talk Like a Pirate Day to be celebrated on 19 September.
At the Maritime Museum we often have pirate-themed activities for young and old to enjoy, for example, our recent A Pirate Christmas event with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra. Check out the cute pictures on Facebook.
This recognisable idea of what constitutes a pirate is based on the classic era of piracy in the Caribbean from around 1650 until the mid-1720s. The concept has remained in popular consciousness since then, and was most recently reinforced by the popular Pirates of the Caribbean movies.
But, pirates are still very real in the 21st century. Piracy is criminal violence and robbery conducted at sea, and pirates are the people who commit these crimes.
Pirates today are dangerously sophisticated, armed, and can be equipped with modern technology such as GPS systems and night-vision goggles. They terrorise the seas with their hijacking, violence and robbery.
In the Amazon, gangs of criminals known as 'water rats' are common throughout the rivers, ambushing and robbing boats and ferries they encounter.
On 5 December 2001 Sir Peter Blake was shot and killed by a group of masked “water rats” who had boarded his boat in the Amazon with the intention of robbing it.
Piracy off the coast of Somalia has had a huge effect on international shipping in the early 21st century, peaking in 2011 with 151 attacks on ships and the pirates holding 159 hostages and 10 vessels in February 2012.
Although Hollywood has done a lot to reinforce the stereotypical pirate character, the movie Captain Phillips tells the true story of the 2009 hijacking of the MV Maersk Alabama, an American cargo ship, by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean, and shows the dangerous reality of modern day piracy.
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