Pirates, arrr yer jokin’?

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By Faith V. Allen on 25.5.2023

Pirates, arrr yer jokin’?

Seamen, bad breath, empty rum bottles and a constant feeling of nausea. That is not a misspelling and I’m not talking about the scenario you woke up to this morning. I’m talking about pirates, or at least the stereotypes surrounding them. With piracy back in the media as a current (not tidal) issue, the public’s perception of pirates is changing.

We’ve all dressed up as cavemen, smurfs, or something equally odd for nights out, but what about dressing as pirates? Most people would think to mimic Hollywood’s Jack Sparrow. However, what does it actually mean to be a pirate? I asked the UoK’s Pirate Society to comment on how they feel their society is perceived. The society’s president, Ciaron Watts, and Mark Watts, VP Communications, claimed “We are often viewed as lazy, drunk, unorganised, clinically insane, and generally nothing but trouble.” In response to the criticism, Ciaron suggests “lighten up, have a laugh”. Should we laugh? Is it really all fun and games being a pirate?

In a recent South Park episode, their ‘Pirate Society’ actively engages in pursuits and run by the character Cartman, decides to travel to become a pirate in the Gulf of Aden. The characters of South Park expect “crystal blue lagoons” and treasure, but on arrival to Somalia they find poverty and hostility. Although the show is written with humorous intention, there is reference to the reality of current pirate issues as one character asks, “Why would anyone want to be a pirate?” He explains how he is scared on each attack and how he wants education and a better life.

A 25-year-old Somali pirate, Dahir Mohamed Hayeysi, states exactly this; that he “had no other choice… My ambition is to get a lot of money so that I can lead a better life.” Before he used to depend on fishing as a way of living, until copious illegal fishing, as well as extensive dumping of toxic wastes, depleted the number of fish.

Lawlessness in Somalia, due to an absence of government for eighteen years, has meant that rebellious behaviour is less constrained. Even through punishment by law, by being sent to jail, the pirates could still lead a better life, as they would have three meals a day. In an attempt to regain order, on the 18th of May, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, hosted an International Anti-Piracy Conference to propose, as a global issue, legal defence on crimes at sea. Thailand and Sri Lanka have laws on this already, but in Malaysia, the defence is not strong enough. As a result, Malaysia has agreed to work with the United Nations and confirm membership at the end of the month.

We must not think of Piracy as a brand new issue because from 2005-2007 there were close to 100 incidences reported around the area of Somalia and Yemen. Now, it is returning to the public’s attention because of the extreme violence it generates. However, here the cause of violence was not on the part of the pirates. Other areas, such as Malaysia and the Caribbean, are currently being affected.

Sunday Telegraph chief foreign correspondent Colin Freeman, who was kidnapped in Somalia for six weeks, commented on his treatment during capture, “During our time in captivity we lived on goat meat, received occasional death threats and dodged bullets round the cave one day when the pirates fought with a rival gang.” Despite this, he claimed they were not necessarily hurt or abused. Emotionally conflicted, Freeman remarked on the idea of rescue, “the mere thought that somebody might die because of you – even if it is a kidnapper – looks like a hard one to live with.’’

Alas, it turns out that piracy is not so hey ho funny, in fact, these pirates feel they have no choice but to follow a life of crime in order to survive their country’s desperate situation. Let’s hope London doesn’t take to the seas in these worrying economic times, but if you do feel sympathy towards the pirates then why not join The Original Pirate convention on 6th June at Southbank in London. Just don’t get caARRRRied away.


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