Pirates May Be Popular in Movies, But Piracy Remains a Threat

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I'm Shirley Griffith. And I'm Steve Ember with Explorations in VOA Special English.  Adults and children alike enjoy stories and movies about pirates-- criminals who steal money or goods from people on ships.  One of the most popular has been the movie series, "Pirates of the Caribbean."

The movies star Johnny Depp as a pirate called Captain Jack Sparrow. But history experts say that Captain Jack and other pirates in movies and books are nothing like pirates in real life.

Attacks by pirates are a serious concern in the waters off the coasts of Africa, South America, Indonesia and in the Caribbean.  In two thousand three, four hundred forty-five pirate attacks were reported around the world.  Sixteen people were killed.

In the first three months of two thousand six, sixty-one successful or attempted pirate attacks were reported.  Fifty-six such attacks were reported in the same time period the year before.  Still, many pirate attacks go unreported each year.

In two thousand five, thirty-five pirate attacks were reported in Somalia.  The International Maritime Bureau says the pirates target both passenger and cargo ships.

In March of two thousand six, Somali pirates seized twenty Filipino seamen on an oil ship at a southern Somali port.  The pirates demanded money from the ship owners for their release. The men were released in July following negotiations for their freedom.

Reports say modern pirates use high-speed motor boats.  Most pirates force their way on to the ships, take what they want and are gone within minutes.  Sometimes they kill or injure crew members.

Modern day pirates are difficult to catch.  They return to small rivers or ports where there is little or no law enforcement.  In some areas, pirates pay local officials to hide them from the law. And many times it is difficult to take any legal action against pirates because their attacks may take place outside any country's territorial waters.

Pirates are still a major concern for most countries.  International efforts continue to catch them and bring them to justice.

Experts say pirates have existed throughout history. Pirates robbed ancient Greek and Roman ships. People of one country sometimes used ships to raid the ships of another country.

Often, pirate ships landed on foreign shores and their crews attacked whole towns.  They captured citizens and robbed them. The Vikings of Norway, Denmark and Sweden made these kinds of attacks on ships and towns in Europe.  In the sixteen and seventeen hundreds, many pirates from Britain attacked the rich ships of France and Spain.

People may think these pirates are like those in popular books and movies. Like Long John Silver from "Treasure Island" or Captain Hook from "Peter Pan."  Or Captain Jack Sparrow from "Pirates of the Caribbean."  But history experts who have studied pirates say this is mostly false.

One expert is Marcus Rediker, a history professor at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. He has studied pirate life for more than thirty years. Professor Rediker says many pirates were former sailors.  They rebelled against cruel ship captains and the poor pay and food provided by their governments. The pirates created a democratic society for themselves.  They elected their own captains, developed rules about how to live together and voted on punishments for those who violated the rules.

Another modern pirate expert is David Cordingly.  He wrote a book called "Under the Black Flag: The Romance and Reality of Life Among The Pirates."  The book provides information about real pirates like Calico Jack and Black Bart.  It tells about female pirates too, like Anne Bonney and Mary Read.

We will tell about three of the most famous pirates -- Henry Morgan, Henry Avery and Edward Teach, known as Blackbeard.

The government of Spain considered Henry Morgan a pirate.  The British considered him a hero  Britain, France, The Netherlands and Spain fought many wars for control of land, trading rights and the riches from new territories.  Tensions existed among them even after they signed peace treaties.

Spain's colonies in the western part of the world provided huge amounts of gold, silver and jewels.  These riches were transported to Spain in ships.

In the middle sixteen hundreds, Henry Morgan attacked Spanish cities and ships several times.  He shared with the British government the gold, silver and other goods he took from Spanish ships.

Henry Morgan led one of the most famous attacks in history.  He captured and burned the city of Panama in sixteen seventy-one.  At the time, it was the richest city in all of Spain's colonies.  The British government was very pleased with his work.

Spain's Ambassador to Britain protested the attack.  The British government said Morgan would be tried for his crimes.  But he never was.  He became the assistant governor of Jamaica before he retired.

But most pirates were not very successful.  They lived as pirates for only two or three years.  The history experts say that men who became pirates did not expect to live much longer than that.  They knew the chances were great that they would be killed, or captured, tried and executed for their crimes.

One man, however, may have been the most successful pirate in history.  His name was Henry Avery.  He was also known as Long Ben Avery.

In sixteen ninety-five, Avery and his crew attacked a ship named the Gunsway.  It belonged to a great ruler of India.  The Gunsway carried millions of dollars in gold, silver and jewels.

Avery and his crew took the treasure.  They sailed to the West Indies, then left their ship.  Some of the crew went to America.  Others sailed on different ships.  Avery disappeared with a captain's share of the treasure.  He was never caught. Nor was he ever heard from again.

Edward Teach also became a famous pirate.  He was called Blackbeard because he grew long black hair on his face.  It is thought he was born in Bristol, England.  He went to sea as a young man and became a pirate around seventeen fifteen.

Blackbeard was a successful pirate for about two years.  Then a British Royal Navy ship caught up with him  near what is now the American state of North Carolina in seventeen eighteen.

Blackbeard and his pirates fought the British.  Blackbeard was killed.  Members of his crew were captured and tried for their crimes.  Many were executed.

But that is not the end of the story about Blackbeard. One of the ships Blackbeard commanded was a captured French ship he renamed "Queen Anne's Revenge." He lost the ship when it ran aground and sank in seventeen eighteen. Underwater research experts found the remains of a wooden ship at the bottom of the ocean off the coast of North Carolina in nineteen ninety-six.  Many experts believe the sunken ship is Blackbeard's "Queen Anne's Revenge".

The researchers say the shipwreck offers a lot to study.  They have found arms, ammunition, scientific devices, gold and personal property on the wreckage.  And they continue to investigate the ship. They believe the ship is Blackbeard's because they have no evidence of any other kind of ship sinking in that area in the eighteenth century.

Old stories say Blackbeard may have buried some of his treasure along the coast of what are now the states of North and South Carolina.  People have searched unsuccessfully for that treasure for many years.

Most experts do not believe that Blackbeard buried gold and jewels in that area or anywhere else.  They say pirates in books and movies may have followed maps to buried treasure. But real pirates did not hide their money. The experts say real pirates spent their gold and silver immediately because they did not expect to live long enough to use it later.

People in the United States continue to be interested in pirates as they are shown in books and movies.  There are yearly pirate celebrations in Key West, Florida and in Portland, Oregon. There are pirate museums in North Carolina.  There is a pirate ride at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. There is a pirate hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. And there is even a yearly International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

This program was written by Nancy Steinbach.  It was produced by Mario Ritter.  I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Shirley Griffith.  Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.

Voice of America Special English

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