Shiver Me Timbers: Pirates of the Modern Day
I've been working hard on my next novel, tentatively titled SHIPWRECK (because I'm obsessed with aping Cussler). The writing is coming along well, having just broken a 6k word count. Essentially, that means I've been scraping out just over one thousand words every day this week. That feels good. I love the characters, I love the plot, and I love the research.
I'll be the first to admit that research slows my writing. I love research, I wouldn't be a history teacher or an archeologist if I didn't. But I also love writing, the actual act of getting the story on paper. That means I typically do both the writing and the research simultaneously. When I sit down to plot out a book, just like I did with REMNANT, I make sure I have enough background knowledge to get the gist of where I'm going. Then, when the need arises, I Google up the necessary details.
Early on in SHIPWRECK, the cast are introduced to a band of modern day pirates. The vast majority of my piracy expertise comes from four sources: the excellent series "Black Flag", "Assassins Creed 4: Black Flag (heh heh), "Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception", and "Uncharted 4: A Thief's End".
Only one of those deals with pirates of the present day.
As you can see, I am not well versed.
Going into this, I already knew a few key differences between the Pirates of yore, and those of today. First though, let me clarify that piracy is a profession as old as boats. When I'm talking about piracy in the past, I am speaking solely in regards to the form we most often associate with historical characters like Blackbeard, Jack Rackham, and Ann Bonney.
Piracy in the late 1600's and early 1700's is fascinating and complex in its own right. While we more often than not think of it taking place on the high seas, the vast majority actually took place on land. Of course, many pirates were turned to a life of crime due to circumstance, poverty, and greed, but there was also an idealism associated with it. Many pirates sought freedom, even a country of their own with a formal, albeit piratical, government. Historically, the largest effort to create such a rogue's paradise was centered around Nassau, in the Bahamas, between 1706 and 1718. This theme of a so-called "Pirate Republic" is heavily played upon in the fourth installment of the Assassin's Creed franchise. History also mentions the existence of a place called "Libertalia", usually in association with Madagascar. This is another example of a formal, free, Pirate State, though it is likely fictional. Libertalia is central to the plot of Uncharted 4, where it plays the role of a two-sided coin, one representing idealism, the other, greed.
Modern piracy is a different breed altogether.
The vast majority of piracy that takes place today is driven by grim necessity. Poverty in undeveloped, often war-torn, countries drives individuals to crime. Pirate gangs are not unlike street gangs in that they prey upon the young, weak, and disenfranchised. When thinking of pirates, thoughts of loot and treasure aren't far behind. Movies and fiction portray daring sea battles where pirates and sailors vie for golden doubloons. In today's iteration, the pirates are most often after ransom money. The idea is that they take ships, their crew and cargo, hostage and sell them back for a profit. That is, of course, not always the case, but appears to be a major trend. Somali pirates most often make the headlines, probably bolstered by the popular account of the Maersk Freighter Alabama as portrayed in the Tom Hanks film Captain Phillips. That said, piracy also happens regularly on Falcon Lake, a large body of water that divides Texas from Mexico, and in the Persian Gulf. However, the most frequent occurrences of piracy are in Indonesia, most often along the Straight of Malacca. SHIPWRECK is set in Indonesian waters, though I am fudging some and placing my pirates in the Solomon Sea east of Papua New Guinea.
It's fiction, after all.
Being an adventure writer steeped in pulp tradition, I will not be delving deeply into the sad truths behind modern piracy, though it will definitely make the Author Notes at the end.
The most useful information, as it pertains to the plot, is how ships deter pirates. Shipping is a global economic endeavor, and various countries around the world have very different views on gun control. As such, it is illegal for ships baring arms to enter a number of ports. This means that companies can do one of two things.
First, they could hire trained and licensed mercenaries to protect their ship. This is simple and effective. The pirates are just looking for a payday. They don't want a fight. The presence of armed men is a natural deterrent.
The second option is to go non-lethal. This, in my research, seems to be the most popular choice. Non-lethal deterrents range from the simple and conventional, such a razor wire and electrified railings, to the high tech. The most sophisticated deterrents are sonic weapons that use high frequency sound to cause intense pain and hearing damage. There has also been experiments with using high powered laser to blind pirates. There is even a handheld, rifle-esque version known as the Dazzler that uses directed radiation to cause temporary flash blindness in the target.
Piracy in the 21st Century is a complex and multi-faceted issue. I know that I didn't offer much here that isn't widely available elsewhere, but I hope it was interesting and offered a little insight into my writing process.
There is not yet a release window for SHIPWRECK, though if things keep rolling I should be looking for edits by the end of summer. You can keep in touch with me via Twitter, Instagram, or right here.