09 July 2012

about Piracy

The traditional "Jolly Roger" of piracy.

Capture of the Pirate Blackbeard, 1718 depicting the battle between Blackbeard and Lt. Maynard in Ocracoke Bay.
Piracy is an act of robbery or criminal violence at sea. The term can include acts committed on land, in the air, or in other major bodies of water or on a shore. It does not normally include crimes committed against persons traveling on the same vessel as the perpetrator (e.g. one passenger stealing from others on the same vessel). The term has been used to refer to raids across land borders by non-state agents.
Piracy is the name of a specific crime under customary international law and also the name of a number of crimes under the municipal law of a number of States. It is distinguished from privateering, which is authorized by national authorities and therefore a legitimate form of war-like activity by non-state actors. Privateering is considered commerce raiding, and was outlawed by the Peace of Westphalia (1648) for signatories to those treaties.
Those who engage in acts of piracy are called pirates. Historically, offenders have usually been apprehended by military personnel and tried by military tribunals.
In the 21st century, the international community is facing many problems in bringing pirates to justice.[1]


The English "pirate" is derived from the Latin term pirata and that from Greek "πειρατής" (peiratēs), "brigand",[2] in turn from "πειράομαι" (peiráomai), "I attempt", from "πεῖρα" (peîra), "attempt, experience".[3] The word is also cognate to peril.[4]


Ancient origins

Mosaic of a Roman Trireme in Tunisia.
It may be reasonable to assume that piracy has existed for as long as the oceans were plied for commerce. The earliest documented instances of piracy are the exploits of the Sea Peoples who threatened the Aegean and Mediterranean in the 14th century BC.[5] These pirates were known to wield cutlasses, a type of sword common in that era. In Classical Antiquity, the Illyrians and Tyrrhenians were known as pirates, as well as Greeks and Romans. During their voyages the Phoenicians seem to have sometimes resorted to piracy, and specialized in kidnapping boys and girls to be sold as slaves.[6]
In the 3rd century BC, pirate attacks on Olympos (city in Anatolia) brought impoverishment. Among some of the most famous ancient pirateering peoples were the Illyrians, populating the western Balkan peninsula. Constantly raiding the Adriatic Sea, the Illyrians caused many conflicts with the Roman Republic. It was not until 168 BC when the Romans finally conquered Illyria, making it a province that ended their threat.
During the 1st century BC, there were pirate states along the Anatolian coast, threatening the commerce of the Roman Empire in the eastern Mediterranean. On one voyage across the Aegean Sea in 75 BC,[7] Julius Caesar was kidnapped by Cilician pirates and held prisoner in the Dodecanese islet of Pharmacusa.[8] He maintained an attitude of superiority and good cheer throughout his captivity. When the pirates decided to demand a ransom of twenty talents of gold, Caesar is said to have insisted that he was worth at least fifty, and the pirates indeed raised the ransom to fifty talents. After the ransom was paid and Caesar was released, he raised a fleet, pursued and captured the pirates, and had them crucified.
The Senate finally invested with powers to deal with piracy in 67 BC (the Lex Gabinia), and Pompey after three months of naval warfare managed to suppress the threat.
As early as 258 AD, the Gothic-Herulic fleet ravaged towns on the coasts of the Black Sea and Sea of Marmara. The Aegean coast suffered similar attacks a few years later. In 264, the Goths reached Galatia and Cappadocia, and Gothic pirates landed on Cyprus and Crete. In the process, the Goths seized enormous booty and took thousands into captivity.
In 286 AD, Carausius, a Roman military commander of Gaulish origins, was appointed to command the Classis Britannica, and given the responsibility of eliminating Frankish and Saxon pirates who had been raiding the coasts of Armorica and Belgic Gaul.
In the Roman province of Britannia, Saint Patrick was captured and enslaved by Irish pirates.
Early Polynesian warriors attacked seaside and riverside villages. They used the sea for their hit-and-run tactics – a safe place to retreat to if the battle turned against them.

Middle Ages to 19th century

The most widely known and far reaching pirates in medieval Europe were the Vikings, warriors and looters from Scandinavia who raided mainly between the 8th and 12th centuries, during the Viking Age in the Early Middle Ages. They raided the coasts, rivers and inland cities of all Western Europe as far as Seville, attacked by the Norse in 844. Vikings even attacked coasts of North Africa and Italy. They also plundered all the coasts of the Baltic Sea, ascending the rivers of Eastern Europe as far as the Black Sea and Persia. The lack of centralized powers all over Europe during the Middle Ages favoured pirates all over the continent.[vague][citation needed]
In the Late Middle Ages, the Frisian pirates led by respectively Pier Gerlofs Donia and Wijerd Jelckama, fought against the troops of Charles V, Holy Roman Empire with some success, capturing as many as 28 ships in one battle earning Donia the title "Cross of the Dutchman" and making him one of the most famous and iconic pirates of the era.

Hanging of Captain Kidd
Meanwhile, Moor pirates were common in the Mediterranean Sea. Toward the end of the 9th century, Moor pirate havens were established along the coast of southern France and northern Italy.[9] In 846 Moor raiders sacked Rome and damaged the Vatican. In 911, the bishop of Narbonne was unable to return to France from Rome because the Moors from Fraxinet controlled all the passes in the Alps. Moor pirates operated out of the Balearic Islands in the 10th century. From 824 to 961 Arab pirates in Emirate of Crete raided the entire Mediterranean. In the 14th century, raids by Moor pirates forced the Venetian Duke of Crete to ask Venice to keep its fleet on constant guard.[10]
After the Slavic invasions of the Balkan peninsula in the 5th and 6th centuries, a Slavic tribe settled the land of Pagania between Dalmatia and Zachlumia in the first half of the 7th century. These Slavs revived the old Illyrian piratical habits and often raided the Adriatic Sea. By 642 they invaded southern Italy and assaulted Siponto. Their raids in the Adriatic increased rapidly, until the whole Sea was no longer safe for travel.

Captain William Bainbridge paying the U.S. tribute to the Dey of Algiers, circa 1800.
The Narentines, as they were called, took more liberties in their raiding quests while the Venetian Navy was abroad, as when it was campaigning in Sicilian waters in 827–882. As soon as the Venetian fleet would return to the Adriatic, the Narentines temporarily abandoned their habits again, even signing a Treaty in Venice and baptising their Slavic pagan leader into Christianity. In 834 or 835 they broke the treaty and again the Neretva pirates raided Venetian traders returning from Benevento, and all of Venice's military attempts to punish the Marians in 839 and 840 utterly failed. Later, they raided the Venetians more often, together with the Arabs. In 846, the Narentines broke through to Venice itself and raided its lagoon city of Caorle. In the middle of March 870 they kidnapped the Roman Bishop's emissaries that were returning from the Ecclesiastical Council in Constantinople. This caused a Byzantine military action against them that finally brought Christianity to them.
After the Arab raids on the Adriatic coast circa 872 and the retreat of the Imperial Navy, the Narentines continued their raids of Venetian waters, causing new conflicts with the Italians in 887–888. The Venetians futilely continued to fight them throughout the 10th and 11th centuries.
In 937, Irish pirates sided with the Scots, Vikings, Picts, and Welsh in their invasion of England. Athelstan drove them back.

Four Chinese pirates who were hanged at Hong Kong in 1863
The Slavic piracy in the Baltic Sea ended with the Danish conquest of the Rani stronghold of Arkona in 1168. In the 12th century the coasts of western Scandinavia were plundered by Curonians and Oeselians from the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea. In the 13th and 14th century pirates threatened the Hanseatic routes and nearly brought sea trade to the brink of extinction. The Victual Brothers of Gotland were a companionship of privateers who later turned to piracy. Until about 1440, maritime trade in both the North Sea and the Baltic Sea was seriously in danger of attack by the pirates.
A little-known example of inland piracy is the looting of salt transports that took place on lake Traunsee in medieval Austria. Salt from salterns at the upper Traun river was exported downstream by boat across the lake, and further on to Bohemia via the Danube. These boats were often captured by pirates between the years 955 and 1000 until duke Otakar V. of Chiemgau and duke Liutold II. of Raschenberg-Reichenhall seized a pirate stronghold on lake Traunsee.[11]

Attack by Moro Pirates on Brooke's Jolly Bachelor during the era of White Rajahs in Sarawak, 1843
H. Thomas Milhorn mentions a certain Englishman named William Maurice, convicted of piracy in 1241, as the first person known to have been hanged, drawn and quartered,[12] which would indicate that the then-ruling King Henry III took an especially severe view of this crime.
The ushkuiniks were Novgorodian pirates who looted the cities on the Volga and Kama Rivers in the 14th century.
As early as Byzantine times, the Maniots (one of Greece's toughest populations) were known as pirates. The Maniots considered piracy as a legitimate response to the fact that their land was poor and it became their main source of income. The main victims of Maniot pirates were the Ottomans but the Maniots also targeted ships of European countries.
The Haida and Tlingit tribes, who lived along the coast of southern Alaska and on islands in northwest British Columbia, were traditionally known as fierce warriors, pirates and slave-traders, raiding as far as California.[13]

In India

Instances of piracy in India are recorded on Vedas. However, the most interesting one is with the issue of war due to piracy. At the time of the Muslim invasion of Sindh, in the 7th century, the new kingdom of Hijaz launched trade ships to India especially Sindh. However, a ship en route from Sri Lanka to Baghdad was carrying valuables and some slave girls which were looted off Debal (near modern Karachi) by the Meds. One of the slave girls sent a letter challenging the Caliph saying that he cannot rescue them. The Caliph sent a portion of his army to save the slaves. But, the people of Sindh became wary and thought of this army as a threat. This became an excuse for war between Arabs and Sindh.[14] Since the 14th century the Deccan (Southern Peninsular region of India) was divided into two entities: on the one side stood the Muslim Bahmani Sultanate and on the other stood the Hindu kings rallied around the Vijayanagara Empire. Continuous wars demanded frequent resupplies of fresh horses, which were imported through sea routes from Persia and Africa. This trade was subjected to frequent raids by thriving bands of pirates based in the coastal cities of Western India. One of such was Timoji, who operated off Anjadip Island both as a privateer (by seizing horse traders, that he rendered to the raja of Honavar) and as a pirate who attacked the Kerala merchant fleets that traded pepper with Gujarat.

The cemetery of past pirates at Île Ste-Marie (St. Mary's Island).
During the 16th and 17th centuries, there was frequent European piracy against Mughal Indian merchants, especially those en route to Mecca for Hajj. The situation came to a head, when Portuguese attacked and captured the vessel Rahimi which belonged to Mariam Zamani the Mughal queen, which led to the Mughal seizure of the Portuguese town Daman.[15] In the 18th century, the famous Maratha privateer Kanhoji Angre ruled the seas between Mumbai and Goa.[16] The Marathas attacked British shipping and insisted that East India Company ships pay taxes if sailing through their waters.[17]
At one stage, the pirate population of Madagascar numbered close to 1000.[18] Île Sainte-Marie became a popular base for pirates throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. The most famous pirate utopia is that of the probably fictional Captain Misson and his pirate crew, who allegedly founded the free colony of Libertatia in northern Madagascar in the late 17th century, until it was destroyed in a surprise attack by the island natives in 1694.[19]
The southern coast of the Persian Gulf became known as the Pirate Coast as raiders based there harassed foreign shipping. Early British expeditions to protect the Indian Ocean trade from raiders at Ras al-Khaimah led to campaigns against that headquarters and other harbours along the coast in 1819.[20] Captain Kidd captured many vessels of the Mughal King.

In East Asia

Sixteenth century Japanese pirate raids.
From the 13th century, Wokou based in Japan made their debut in East Asia, initiating invasions that would persist for 300 years.
Piracy in South East Asia[21] began with the retreating Mongol Yuan fleet after the betrayal by their Javanese allies (who, incidentally, would found the empire of Majapahit after the Mongols left). They preferred the junk, a ship using a more robust sail layout. Marooned navy officers, consisting mostly of Cantonese and Hokkien tribesmen, set up their small gangs near river estuaries, mainly to protect themselves. They recruited locals as common foot-soldiers known as 'lang' (lanun) to set up their fortresses. They survived by utilizing their well trained pugilists, as well as marine and navigation skills, mostly along Sumatran and Javanese estuaries. Their strength and ferocity coincided with the impending trade growth of the maritime silk and spice routes.
During the mid-Qing dynasty, Chinese pirate fleets grew increasingly powerful throughout the early 19th century. The effects large-scale piracy had on the Chinese economy were immense. They preyed voraciously on China's junk trade, which flourished in Fujian and Guangdong and was a vital artery of Chinese commerce. Pirate fleets exercised hegemony over villages on the coast, collecting revenue by exacting tribute and running extortion rackets. In 1802, the menacing Zheng Yi inherited the fleet of his cousin, captain Zheng Qi, whose death provided Zheng Yi with considerably more influence in the world of piracy. Zheng Yi and his wife, Zheng Yi Sao (who would eventually inherit the leadership of his pirate confederacy) then formed a pirate coalition that, by 1804, consisted of over ten thousand men. Their military might alone was sufficient to combat the Qing navy. However, a combination of famine, Qing naval opposition, and internal rifts crippled piracy in China around the 1820s, and it has never again reached the same status.
The Buginese sailors of South Sulawesi were infamous as pirates who used to range as far west as Singapore and as far north as the Philippines in search of targets for piracy.[22] The Orang laut pirates controlled shipping in the Straits of Malacca and the waters around Singapore,[23] and the Malay and Sea Dayak pirates preyed on maritime shipping in the waters between Singapore and Hong Kong from their haven in Borneo.[24] The Moro pirates of the southern Philippines harassed Spanish shipping and terrorized Christian Filipino settlements. David P. Forsythe wrote: "Of particular significance in Southeast Asia were the incursions of Moro raiders in the southern Philippines who may have captured around 2 million slaves in the first two centuries of Spanish rule after 1565."[25]

Grigory Gagarin. Cossaks of Azov fighting a Turk ship
In the 1840s and 1850s, United States Navy and Royal Navy forces campaigned together against Chinese pirates. Several notable battles were fought though pirate junks continued operating off China for years more. During the Second Opium War and the Taiping Rebellion, piratical junks were again destroyed in large numbers by British naval forces but ultimately it wasn't until the 1860s and 1870s that fleets of pirate junks ceased to exist.

In Eastern Europe

One example of a pirate republic in Europe from the 16th through the 18th century was Zaporizhian Sich. Situated in the remote Steppe, it was populated with Ukrainian peasants that had run away from their feudal masters, outlaws of every sort, destitute gentry, run-away slaves from Turkish galleys, etc. The remoteness of the place and the rapids at the Dnepr river effectively guarded the place from invasions of vengeful powers. The main target of the inhabitants of Zaporizhian Sich who called themselves "Cossacks" were rich settlements at the Black Sea shores of Ottoman Empire and Crimean Khanate.[26] By 1615 and 1625, Zaporozhian Cossacks had even managed to raze townships on the outskirts of Istanbul, forcing the Ottoman Sultan to flee his palace.[27] Don Cossacks under Stenka Razin even ravaged the Persian coasts.[28]

In North Africa

French ship under attack by Barbary pirates, ca. 1615
The Barbary corsairs were pirates and privateers that operated from North African (the "Barbary Coast") ports of Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli and ports in Morocco, preying on shipping in the western Mediterranean Sea from the time of the Crusades as well as on ships on their way to Asia around Africa until the early 19th century. The coastal villages and towns of Italy, Spain and Mediterranean islands were frequently attacked by them and long stretches of the Italian and Spanish coasts were almost completely abandoned by their inhabitants; after 1600 Barbary corsairs occasionally entered the Atlantic and struck as far north as Iceland. According to Robert Davis[29][30] between 1 million and 1.25 million Europeans were captured by Barbary corsairs and sold as slaves in North Africa and the Ottoman Empire between the 16th and 19th centuries. The most famous corsairs were the Ottoman Hayreddin and his older brother Oruç Reis (Redbeard), Turgut Reis (known as Dragut in the West), Kurtoğlu (known as Curtogoli in the West), Kemal Reis, Salih Reis and Koca Murat Reis. A few Barbary corsairs, such as the Dutch Jan Janszoon and the English John Ward (Muslim name Yusuf Reis), were renegade European privateers who had converted to Islam.
According to the U.S. Supreme Court, the United States treated captured Barbary corsairs as prisoners of war, indicating that they were considered as legitimate privateers by at least some of their opponents, as well as by their home countries.

In the Caribbean

French pirate Jacques de Sores looting and burning Havana in 1555

François l'Olonnais was nicknamed Flail of the Spaniards and had a reputation for brutality – offering no quarter to Spanish prisoners
In 1523, Jean Fleury seized two Spanish treasure ships carrying Aztec treasures from Mexico to Spain.[31] The great or classic era of piracy in the Caribbean extends from around 1560 up until the mid 1720s. The period during which pirates were most successful was from 1700 until the 1730s. Many pirates came to the Caribbean after the end of the War of the Spanish Succession, staying in the Caribbean and becoming pirates. Others, the buccaneers, arrived in the mid-to-late 17th century and made attempts at earning a living by farming and hunting on Hispaniola and nearby islands; pressed by Spanish raids and possibly failure of their means of making a living (wild herds having been deliberately wiped out by the Spanish) they turned to a more lucrative occupation. Caribbean piracy arose out of, and on a smaller scale mirrored, the conflicts over trade and colonization among the rival European powers of the time including the empires of Britain, Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal and France. Most of these pirates were of English, Dutch and French origin, but occasionally Spaniards turned to piracy as well. Because Spain controlled most of the Caribbean, many of the attacked cities and ships belonged to the Spanish Empire and along the East coast of America and the West coast of Africa. Dutch ships captured about 500 Spanish and Portuguese ships between 1623 and 1638.[5] Some of the best-known pirate bases were New Providence, in the Bahamas from 1715 to 1725,[32] Tortuga established in the 1640s and Port Royal after 1655. Among the most famous Caribbean pirates are Edward Teach or Blackbeard, Calico Jack Rackham, Henry Morgan and Bartholomew Roberts. Another famous pirate of this era was Hendrick Lucifer, who fought for hours to acquire Cuban gold, becoming mortally wounded in the process. He died of his wounds hours after having transferred the booty to his ship.[33] Most pirates were eventually hunted down by the Royal Navy and killed or captured; several battles were fought between the brigands and the colonial powers on both land and sea.
Piracy in the Caribbean declined for the next several decades after 1730, but by the 1810s many pirates roamed American waters though they were not as bold or successful as their predecessors. Throughout the first quarter of the 19th century, the United States Navy repeatedly engaged pirates in the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and in the Mediterranean. Several warships were designed specifically for the task. The most successful pirates of the era were Jean Lafitte and Roberto Cofresi. Lafitte's ships operated primarily in the Gulf of Mexico but Cofresi's base was in Puerto Rico where he was considered a type of Robin Hood by many Puerto Ricans. Eventually he was defeated by the schooner USS Grampus and captured in 1825. The United States landed shore parties on several islands in the Caribbean in pursuit of pirates; Cuba was a major haven. By the 1830s piracy had died out again, and the navies of the region focused on the slave trade.
In 1827, Britain declared that participation in the slave trade was piracy, a crime punishable by death. The power of the Royal Navy was subsequently used to suppress the slave trade, and while some illegal trade (mostly with Brazil and Cuba) continued, the Atlantic slave trade would be eradicated by the middle of the 19th century.
In the 20th Century, one notable pirate active in the Caribbean was Boysie Singh. He operated off northern South America. He and his pirate gang killed several people and plundered their ships from 1947 to 1956.[34]
Recently, with the proliferation of small private yachts cruising the Caribbean, piracy is again on the rise with many yachts being plundered and their crews often tortured, raped or slain.

In North America

Jean Lafitte, New Orleans' legendary pirate
Ocean piracy, off the coasts of North America, continued as late as the 1870s. Pirates who operated in the Caribbean often sailed north to attack targets off the present day eastern seaboard of the United States. Possibly the most famous of these was Blackbeard, who operated in the American south, attacking ships and at one point even blockading Charleston, South Carolina. Later in the 19th century, after the Golden Age of Piracy, Jean Lafitte became what is considered by many to be the last buccaneer due to his army of pirates and fleet of pirate ships which held bases in and around the Gulf of Mexico. Lafitte and his men participated in the War of 1812 battle of New Orleans and later his ships fought the United States Navy and the United States Revenue Cutter Service. Eventually, Lafitte was evicted from the area by United States forces after several accidental sinking of U.S ships due to the rest of the crew attacking an American ship, thinking it was a Mexican ship, battles and raids. Between 1822 and 1825, the American West Indies Squadron fought against pirates in the Caribbean.
By 1830, piracy in the Gulf of Mexico became rare with the exception of slave traders, who were considered pirates. In 1860 during the Reform War, the United States Navy fought the Battle of Anton Lizardo against rebels which were declared pirates by the Mexican government. In 1870, the United States again fought pirates off Mexico during the Battle of Boca Teacapan. The pirates had attacked and captured Guaymas, Mexico, looted the foreign residents of their belongings and forced the United States consulate in Guaymas to provide their steamer with coal, after which they sailed for Boca Teacapan, Sinaloa. A United States Navy expedition under Willard H. Brownson was launched, resulting in the destruction of the pirate ship. The invention of steam powered vessels eventually put an end to piracy off North America though some isolated incidents continued to occur into the 1920s.

The hanging of pirate Stede Bonnet in Charleston, 1718
River piracy, in late 18th-mid-19th century America, was primarily concentrated along the Ohio River and Mississippi River valleys. River pirates usually located their operations in isolated frontier settlements, which were sparsely populated areas lacking the protection of civilized government. They resorted to a variety of tactics, depending on the number of pirates and size of the boat crews involved. They were involved in river piracy including; deception, concealment, ambush, and assaults in open combat, near natural obstacles and curiosities, such as shelter caves, islands, river narrows, rapids, swamps, and marshes. River travelers were robbed, captured, and murdered and their livestock, slaves, cargo, and flatboats, keelboats, and rafts were sunk or sold down river.
After the Revolutionary War, American river piracy began to take root, in the mid-1780s, along the upper Mississippi River, between Spanish Upper Louisiana, around St. Louis, down to the confluence of the Ohio River, at Cairo.
In 1803, at Tower Rock, the U.S. Army dragoons, possibly, from the frontier army post up river at Fort Kaskaskia, on the Illinois side opposite St. Louis, raided and drove out the river pirates.

Ann Bonny and Mary Read convicted of piracy on November 28, 1720
Stack Island became associated with river pirates and counterfeiters, starting in the late 1790s. In 1809, the last major river pirate activity, on the Upper Mississippi River, came to an abrupt end, when a group of flatboatmen, meeting at the head of the Nine Mile Reach, decided to make a raid on Stack Island and wipe out the river pirates. They attacked at night, a battle ensued, and two of the boatmen and several outlaws were killed. The attackers captured 19 other men, a 15-year-old boy and two women. The women and teenager were allowed to leave. The remaining outlaws are presumed to have been executed.
From 1790-1834, Cave-In-Rock was the principal outlaw lair[disambiguation needed] and headquarters of river pirate activity in the Ohio River region. The notorious cave, is today, within the peaceful confines of Illinois' Cave-in-Rock State Park. In 1797, it was anything but peaceful, as Samuel Mason, who was initially a Revolutionary War Patriot[disambiguation needed] captain in the Ohio County, Virginia militia and a former associate judge and squire in Kentucky, led a gang of highway robbers and river pirates on the Ohio River. Mason started his criminal organization in Red Banks and was driven out by regulators, sweeping through western Kentucky and first set up his new operation at Diamond Island, followed by Cave-In-Rock, and later, along the Mississippi River, from Stack Island to Natchez.

Puerto del Príncipe being sacked in 1668 by Henry Morgan
During Samuel Mason's 1797-1799 occupation of Cave-In-Rock and after his departure, the name of Bully Wilson became associated with cave; a large sign was erected near the natural landmark's entrance, "Liquor Vault and House for Entertainment." Wilson may have been an alias for Mason, a front man for his criminal operation, or another outlaw leader who ran a gang of pirates in the region. The Harpe Brothers who were allegedly America's first serial killers, were highwaymen, on the run from the law in Tennessee and Kentucky and briefly, joined Samuel Mason's gang at Cave-In-Rock. Peter Alston, the son of American counterfeiter, Philip Alston who through his father, became a river pirate and highwayman at Cave-In-Rock and made the acquaintance of Samuel Mason and Wiley Harpe, following them to Stack Island and Natchez. Around the late 18th century to early 19th century, on the Illinois side of the Ohio River, north of Cave-In-Rock, Jonathan Brown[disambiguation needed] led a small gang of river pirates at Battery Rock.
The lower Ohio River country was routinely, patrolled by the Legion of the United States and U.S. Army troops, garrisoned at Fort Massac, as constabulary against Native Americans, colonial raiders from Spanish Upper Louisiana Territory, and river outlaws in the region.

Blackbeard's severed head hanging from Maynard's bowsprit
Between 1800 and 1820[citation needed], the legendary Colonel Plug also, known as Col. Plug or Colonel Fluger, ran a gang of river pirates on the Ohio River, in a cypress swamp, near the mouth of the Cache River, which was below Cave-In-Rock and Fort Massac and just above the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Plug's tactics were to sneak aboard, personally, or have one of his pirates, secretly, go into the hull of a boat and either, dig out the caulking between the floor planks or drill holes with an auger, causing the boat to sink and be easily attacked. The boat and the cargo would later be sold down river. Little is known about Colonel Plug except, from the folklorish descriptions provided in 1830 by Timothy Flint's "Col. Plug, the last of the Boat-wreckers," in The Western Monthly Review and "The Boat-Wreckers—Or Banditti of the West," in the Rochester, New Yorknewspaper, Daily Advertiser, Jan. 29, 1830. Fluger claimed to have been a Yankee native of Rockingham County, New Hampshire and was a former militia colonel. No historical evidence exists to justify this, as no Fluger surname can be found in the New Hampshire U.S. census records or the Rockingham County military muster rolls.
James Ford, an American Ohio River civic leader and businessman, secretly, led a gang of river pirates and highwaymen, from the 1820s to the mid-1830s, on the Ohio River, in Illinois and Kentucky.
River piracy continued on the lower Mississippi River, from the early 1800s to the mid 1830's, these river pirates were mainly, organized into large gangs similar to Samuel Mason's organization around Cave-In-Rock or smaller gangs under the operation of John A. Murrell, which also, existed, from the 1820s to the mid-1830s, between Stack Island and Natchez, in the state of Mississippi.
The decline of river piracy occurred, over time, as a result of direct military action taken and the combined strength of local law enforcement and regulator-vigilante groups, that uprooted and swept out pockets of outlaw resistance.
Great Lakes piracy occurred, from 1900–1930, on Lake Michigan, through the exploits of "Roaring" Dan Seavey.

Popular image

In the popular modern imagination, pirates of the classical period were rebellious, clever teams who operated outside the restricting bureaucracy of modern life. Pirates were also depicted as always raising their Jolly Roger flag when preparing to hijack a vessel. The Jolly Roger is the traditional name for the flags of European and American pirates and a symbol for piracy that has been adopted by film-makers and toy manufacturers.

Pirate democracy

A pirate captain relaxes with his crew in a Howard Pyle illustration from Howard Pyle's Book of Pirates.
Unlike traditional Western societies of the time, many Caribbean pirate crews of European descent operated as limited democracies. Pirate communities were some of the first to instate a system of checks and balances similar to the one used by the present-day United States and many other countries. The first record of such a government aboard a pirate sloop dates to the 17th century.[35]
Both the captain and the quartermaster were elected by the crew; they, in turn, appointed the other ship's officers. The captain of a pirate ship was often a fierce fighter in whom the men could place their trust, rather than a more traditional authority figure sanctioned by an elite. However, when not in battle, the quartermaster usually had the real authority. Many groups of pirates shared in whatever they seized; pirates injured in battle might be afforded special compensation similar to medical or disability insurance.
There are contemporary records that many pirates placed a portion of any captured money into a central fund that was used to compensate the injuries sustained by the crew. Lists show standardised payments of 600 pieces of eight ($156,000 in modern currency) for the loss of a leg down to 100 pieces ($26,800) for loss of an eye. Often all of these terms were agreed upon and written down by the pirates, but these articles could also be used as incriminating proof that they were outlaws.


Henry Every is shown selling his loot in this engraving by Howard Pyle. Every's capture of the Grand Mughal ship Ganj-i-Sawai in 1695 stands as one of the most profitable pirate raids ever perpetrated.
Even though pirates raided many ships, few, if any, buried their treasure. Often, the "treasure" that was stolen was food, water, alcohol, weapons, or clothing. Other things they stole were household items like bits of soap and gear like rope and anchors, or sometimes they would keep the ship they captured (either to sell off or keep because it was better than their ship). Such items were likely to be needed immediately, rather than saved for future trade. For this reason, there was no reason for the pirates to bury these goods. Pirates tended to kill few people aboard the ships they captured; usually they would kill no one if the ship surrendered because, if it became known that pirates took no prisoners, their victims would fight to the last and make victory both very difficult and costly in lives. In contrast, ships would quickly surrender if they knew they would be spared. In one well-documented case 300 heavily armed soldiers on a ship attacked by Thomas Tew surrendered after a brief battle with none of Tew's 40-man crew being injured.[36]


Pirates had a system of hierarchy on board their ships determining how captured money was distributed. However, pirates were more "egalitarian" than any other area of employment at the time. In fact pirate quartermasters were a counterbalance to the captain and had the power to veto his orders. The majority of plunder was in the form of cargo and ship's equipment with medicines the most highly prized. A vessel's doctor's chest would be worth anywhere from £300 to £400, or around $470,000 in today's values. Jewels were common plunder but not popular as they were hard to sell, and pirates, unlike the public of today, had little concept of their value. There is one case recorded where a pirate was given a large diamond worth a great deal more than the value of the handful of small diamonds given his crewmates as a share. He felt cheated and had it broken up to match what they received.[37]

Sir Henry Morgan. In 1671, Morgan sacked and burned the city of Panama – the second most important city in the Spanish New World at the time.
Spanish pieces of eight minted in Mexico or Seville were the standard trade currency in the American colonies. However, every colony still used the monetary units of pounds, shillings and pence for bookkeeping while Spanish, German, French and Portuguese money were all standard mediums of exchange as British law prohibited the export of British silver coinage. Until the exchange rates were standardised in the late 18th century each colony legislated its own different exchange rates. In England, 1 piece of eight was worth 4s 3d while it was worth 8s in New York, 7s 6d in Pennsylvania and 6s 8d in Virginia. One 18th century English shilling was worth around $58 in modern currency so a piece of eight could be worth anywhere from $246 to $465. As such, the value of pirate plunder could vary considerably depending on who recorded it and where.[38][39]
Ordinary seamen received a part of the plunder at the captain's discretion but usually a single share. On average, a pirate could expect the equivalent of a year's wages as his share from each ship captured while the crew of the most successful pirates would often each receive a share valued at around £1,000 ($1.17 million) at least once in their career.[37] One of the larger amounts taken from a single ship was that by captain Thomas Tew from an Indian merchantman in 1692. Each ordinary seaman on his ship received a share worth £3,000 ($3.5 million) with officers receiving proportionally larger amounts as per the agreed shares with Tew himself receiving 2½ shares. It is known there were actions with multiple ships captured where a single share was worth almost double this.[37][40]
By contrast, an ordinary seamen in the Royal Navy received 19s per month to be paid in a lump sum at the end of a tour of duty which was around half the rate paid in the Merchant Navy. However, corrupt officers would often "tax" their crews' wage to supplement their own and the Royal Navy of the day was infamous for its reluctance to pay. From this wage, 6d per month was deducted for the maintenance of Greenwich Hospital with similar amounts deducted for the Chatham Chest, the chaplain and surgeon. Six months' pay was withheld to discourage desertion. That this was insufficient incentive is revealed in a report on proposed changes to the RN Admiral Nelson wrote in 1803; he noted that since 1793 more than 42,000 sailors had deserted. Roughly half of all RN crews were pressganged and these not only received lower wages than volunteers but were shackled while the vessel was docked and were never permitted to go ashore until released from service.[41][42]
Although the Royal Navy suffered from many morale issues, it answered the question of prize money via the 'Cruizers and Convoys' Act of 1708 which handed over the share previously gained by the Crown to the captors of the ship. Technically it was still possible for the Crown to get the money or a portion of it but this rarely happened. The process of condemnation of a captured vessel and its cargo and men was given to the High Court of the Admiralty and this was the process which remained in force with minor changes throughout the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.

Bartholomew Roberts' crew carousing at the Calabar River. Roberts is estimated to have captured over 470 vessels.
The share-out of prize-money is given below in its pre-1808 state.
Ship Prize Shares
Rank Pre 1808 Post 1808
Captain 3/8 2/8
Admiral of fleet 1/8 1/8
Sailing Master
& Lieutenants
& Captain of Marines
1/8 1/8
Warrant Officers 1/8 1/8
Wardroom Warrant officers
& Petty Officers
1/8 1/8
Gunners, Sailors 1/8 2/8
Even the flag officer's share was not quite straightforward; he would only get the full one-eighth if he had no junior flag officer beneath him. If this was the case then he would get a third share. If he had more than one then he would take one half while the rest was shared out equally.
There was a great deal of money to be made in this way. The record breaker, admittedly before our wars, was the capture of the Spanish frigate the Hermione, which was carrying treasure in 1762. The value of this was so great that each individual seaman netted £485 ($1.4 million in 2008 dollars).[43] The two captains responsible, Evans and Pownall, got just on £65,000 each ($188.4 million). In January 1807 the frigate Caroline took the Spanish San Rafael which brought in £52,000 for her captain, Peter Rainier (who had been only a Midshipman some thirteen months before). All through the wars there are examples of this kind of luck falling on captains. Another famous 'capture' was that of the Spanish frigates Thetis and Santa Brigada which were loaded with gold specie. They were taken by four British frigates who shared the money, each captain receiving £40,730. Each lieutenant got £5,091, the Warrant Officer group, £2,468, the midshipmen £791 and the individual seamen £182.
It should also be noted that it was usually only the frigates which took prizes; the ships of the line were far too ponderous to be able to chase and capture the smaller ships which generally carried treasure. Nelson always bemoaned that he had done badly out of prize money and even as a flag officer received little. This was not that he had a bad command of captains but rather that British mastery of the seas was so complete that few enemy ships dared to sail.[44]


A flyer describing the public execution of 16th century pirate Klein Henszlein and his crew.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, once pirates were caught, justice was meted out in a summary fashion, and many ended their lives by "dancing the hempen jig", or hanging at the end of a rope. Public execution was a form of entertainment at the time, and people came out to watch them as they would to a sporting event today. Newspapers were glad to report every detail, such as recording the condemned men's last words, the prayers said by the priests for their immortal souls, and their final agonising moments on the gallows. In England most of these executions took place at Execution Dock on the River Thames in London.
In the cases of more famous prisoners, usually captains, their punishments extended beyond death. Their bodies were enclosed in iron cages (for which they were measured before their execution) and left to swing in the air until the flesh rotted off them- a process that could take as long as two years. The bodies of captains such as William Kidd, Charles Vane, William Fly, and Jack Rackham were all treated this way.[45]


HMS Kent battling Confiance, a privateer vessel commanded by French corsair Robert Surcouf in October 1800, as depicted in a painting by Garneray.
A privateer or corsair used similar methods to a pirate, but acted while in possession of a commission or letter of marque from a government or monarch authorizing the capture of merchant ships belonging to an enemy nation. For example, the United States Constitution of 1787 specifically authorized Congress to issue letters of marque and reprisal. The letter of marque was recognized by international convention and meant that a privateer could not technically be charged with piracy while attacking the targets named in his commission. This nicety of law did not always save the individuals concerned, however, as whether one was considered a pirate or a legally operating privateer often depended on whose custody the individual found himself in—that of the country that had issued the commission, or that of the object of attack. Spanish authorities were known to execute foreign privateers with their letters of marque hung around their necks to emphasize Spain's rejection of such defenses. Furthermore, many privateers exceeded the bounds of their letters of marque by attacking nations with which their sovereign was at peace (Thomas Tew and William Kidd are notable alleged examples), and thus made themselves liable to conviction for piracy. However, a letter of marque did provide some cover for such pirates, as plunder seized from neutral or friendly shipping could be passed off later as taken from enemy merchants.
The famous Barbary Corsairs (authorized by the Ottoman Empire) of the Mediterranean were privateers, as were the Maltese Corsairs, who were authorized by the Knights of St. John, and the Dunkirkers in the service of the Spanish Empire. In the years 1626–1634 alone, the Dunkirk privateers captured 1,499 ships, and sank another 336.[46] From 1609 to 1616, England lost 466 merchant ships to Barbary pirates, and 160 British ships were captured by Algerians between 1677 and 1680.[47] One famous privateer was Sir Francis Drake. His patron was Queen Elizabeth I, and their relationship ultimately proved to be quite profitable for England.[48]
Privateers were a large proportion of the total military force at sea during the 17th and 18th centuries. During the Nine Years War, the French adopted a policy of strongly encouraging privateers (French corsairs), including the famous Jean Bart, to attack English and Dutch shipping. England lost roughly 4,000 merchant ships during the war.[49] In the following War of Spanish Succession, privateer attacks continued, Britain losing 3,250 merchant ships.[50] During the War of Austrian Succession, Britain lost 3,238 merchant ships and France lost 3,434 merchant ships to the British.[49]
During King George's War, approximately 36,000 Americans served aboard privateers at one time or another.[49] During the American Revolution, about 55,000 American seamen served aboard the privateers.[51] The American privateers had almost 1,700 ships, and they captured 2,283 enemy ships.[52] Between the end of the Revolutionary War and 1812, less than 30 years, Britain, France, Naples, the Barbary States, Spain, and the Netherlands seized approximately 2,500 American ships.[53] Payments in ransom and tribute to the Barbary states amounted to 20% of United States government annual revenues in 1800.[54] Throughout the American Civil War, Confederate privateers successfully harassed Union merchant ships.[55]
Privateering lost international sanction under the Declaration of Paris in 1856.

Modern age


Seaborne piracy against transport vessels remains a significant issue (with estimated worldwide losses of US$13 to $16 billion per year),[56][57] particularly in the waters between the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, off the Somali coast, and also in the Strait of Malacca and Singapore, which are used by over 50,000 commercial ships a year. A recent[58] surge in piracy off the Somali coast spurred a multi-national effort led by the United States to patrol the waters near the Horn of Africa. In 2011, Brazil created anti-piracy unit on Amazon river.[59]
In recent years, shipping companies claimed that their vessels suffer from regular pirate attacks on the Serbian and Romanian stretches of the international Danube river, i.e. inside the European Union's territory, starting from at least 2011.[60][61][62]

Indonesian National Police and Royal Malaysia Police practising a joint maritime security drill in Kuching.
Modern pirates favor small boats and taking advantage of the small number of crew members on modern cargo vessels. They also use large vessels to supply the smaller attack/boarding vessels. Modern pirates can be successful because a large amount of international commerce occurs via shipping. Major shipping routes take cargo ships through narrow bodies of water (such as the Gulf of Aden and the Strait of Malacca) making them vulnerable to be overtaken and boarded by small motorboats.[63][64] Other active areas include the South China Sea and the Niger Delta. As usage increases, many of these ships have to lower cruising speeds to allow for navigation and traffic control, making them prime targets for piracy.
Also, pirates often operate in regions of developing or struggling countries with smaller navies and large trade routes. Pirates sometimes evade capture by sailing into waters controlled by their pursuer's enemies. With the end of the Cold War, navies have decreased size and patrol, and trade has increased, making organized piracy far easier. Modern pirates are sometimes linked with organized-crime syndicates, but often are parts of small individual groups.
The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) maintains statistics regarding pirate attacks dating back to 1995. Their records indicate hostage-taking overwhelmingly dominates the types of violence against seafarers. For example in 2006, there were 239 attacks, 77 crew members were kidnapped and 188 taken hostage but only 15 of the pirate attacks resulted in murder.[65] In 2007 the attacks rose by 10% to 263 attacks. There was a 35% increase on reported attacks involving guns. Crew members that were injured numbered 64 compared to just 17 in 2006.[66] That number does not include hostages/kidnapping where they were not injured.

Overflight image of the Niger Delta, a center of piracy.
The number of attacks within the first nine months of 2009 already surpassed the previous year's due to the increased pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden and off Somalia. Between January and September the number of attacks rose to 306 from 293. The pirates boarded the vessels in 114 cases and hijacked 34 of them so far in 2009. Gun use in pirate attacks has gone up to 176 cases from 76 last year.[67]
In some cases, modern pirates are not interested in the cargo but instead in taking the personal belongings of the crew and the contents of the ship's safe, which might contain large amounts of cash needed for payroll and port fees. In other cases, the pirates force the crew off the ship and then sail it to a port to be repainted and given a new identity through false papers often purchased from corrupt or complicit officials.[68]
Modern piracy can also take place in conditions of political unrest. For example, following the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, Thai piracy was aimed at the many Vietnamese who took to boats to escape. Further, following the disintegration of the government of Somalia, warlords in the region have attacked ships delivering UN food aid.[69]
Environmental action groups such as Sea Shepherd have been accused of engaging in piracy and terrorism, when they ram and throw butyric acid on the decks of ships engaged in commercial fishing, shark poaching and finning, seal hunting, and whaling. In two instances they boarded a Japanese whaling vessel. Their tactics and methods are considered acts of piracy by some.[70][71]
The attack against the German built cruise ship the Seabourn Spirit offshore of Somalia in November 2005 is an example of the sophisticated pirates mariners face. The pirates carried out their attack more than 100 miles (160 km) offshore with speedboats launched from a larger mother ship. The attackers were armed with automatic firearms and an RPG.[72]
Many nations forbid ships to enter their territorial waters or ports if the crew of the ships are armed, in an effort to restrict possible piracy.[73] Shipping companies sometimes hire private armed security guards.

Modern definitions of piracy include the following acts:
For the United States, piracy is one of the offenses against which Congress is delegated power to enact penal legislation by the Constitution of the United States, along with treason and offenses against the law of nations. Treason is generally making war against one's own countrymen, and violations of the law of nations can include unjust war among other nationals or by governments against their own people.
In modern times, ships and airplanes are hijacked for political reasons as well. The perpetrators of these acts could be described as pirates (for instance, the French for plane hijacker is pirate de l'air, literally air pirate), but in English are usually termed hijackers. An example is the hijacking of the Italian civilian passenger ship Achille Lauro in 1985, which is generally regarded as an act of piracy.
Modern pirates also use a great deal of technology. It has been reported that crimes of piracy have involved the use of mobile phones, satellite phones, GPS, Sonar systems, modern speedboats, assault rifles, shotguns, pistols, mounted machine guns, and even RPGs and grenade launchers.

Pirate economics

A 2011 report, published by Geopolicity Inc and called The Economics of Piracy, investigated the causes and consequences of international piracy, with a particular focus on piracy emanating from Somalia.[74] The report asserts that piracy is an emerging market in its own right, valued at between US$4.9–8.3 billion in 2010 alone, and it establishes, for the first time, an economic model for assessing the costs and benefits of international piracy. This model provides a comprehensive, independent framework of trend analysis, whilst also highlighting where the greatest rates of return on international counter pirate investment and policy are to be found across what Geopolicity term the ‘Pirate Value Chain.’ The report states that the number of pirates could double by 2016, increasing by 400 each year. This is being fuelled by attractive financial incentives with Somali pirates earning up to US$79,000/year; equating to almost 150 times their country’s national average wage.[74]

Recent incidents

Piracy incidents in 2010[75][76]
Regions Incidents Types of vessels attacked
Africa 259 Bulk carrier 80
America 40 Container 80
East Asia 44 General cargo 80
Indian sub-continent 28 Chemical tanker 80
South East Asia 70 Crude oil tanker 80
Rest of world 4 Product tanker 80

Tug 20

Trawler/fishing boat 19

Other 50

  • During the Troubles in Northern Ireland, two coaster ships were hijacked and sunk by the IRA in the span of one year, between February 1981 and February 1982.
  • A collision between the container ship Ocean Blessing and the hijacked tanker Nagasaki Spirit occurred in the Malacca Straits at about 23:20 on September 19, 1992. Pirates had boarded the Nagasaki Spirit, removed its captain from command, set the ship on autopilot and left with the ship's master for a ransom. The ship was left going at full speed with no one at the wheel. The collision and resulting fire took the lives of all the sailors of Ocean Blessing; from Nagasaki Spirit there were only 2 survivors. The fire on the Nagasaki Spirit lasted for six days; the fire aboard the Ocean Blessing burned for five weeks.[77]
  • The cargo ship Chang Song boarded and taken over by pirates posing as customs officials in the South China Sea in 1998. Entire crew of 23 was killed and their bodies thrown overboard. Six bodies were eventually recovered in fishing nets. A crackdown by the Chinese government resulted in the arrest of 38 pirates and the group's leader, a corrupt customs official, and 11 other pirates who were then executed.[78]
  • The New Zealand environmentalist, yachtsman and public figure Sir Peter Blake was killed by Brazilian river pirates in 2001.[79]
  • Pirates boarded the supertanker Dewi Madrim in March 2003 in the Malacca Strait. Articles like those written by the Economist indicate the pirates did not focus on robbing the crew or cargo, but instead focused on learning how to steer the ship and stole only manuals and technical information. However, the original incident report submitted to the IMO by the IMB would indicate these articles are incorrect and misleading. See also: Letter to the Editor of Foreign Affairs.
  • The American luxury liner The Seabourn Spirit was attacked by pirates in November 2005 off the Somalian coast. There was one injury to a crewmember; he was hit by shrapnel.
  • Pirates boarded the Danish bulk carrier Danica White in June 2007 near the coast of Somalia. USS Carter Hall tried to rescue the crew by firing several warning shots but wasn't able to follow the ship into Somali waters.[80]

Part of the counter-piracy Operation Atalanta, the Maestrale class frigate ITS Maestrale (F570) prepares to take on fuel alongside the amphibious assault ship USS Tarawa (LHA-1) during an underway replenishment in the Indian Ocean.
  • In April 2008, pirates seized control of the French luxury yacht Le Ponant carrying 30 crew members off the coast of Somalia.[81] The captives were released on payment of a ransom. The French military later captured some of the pirates, with the support of the provisional Somali government.[82] On June 2, 2008, the UN Security Council passed a resolution enabling the patrolling of Somali waters following this and other incidents. The Security Council resolution provided permission for six months to states cooperating with Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) to enter the country's territorial waters and use "all necessary means" to stop "piracy and armed robbery at sea, in a manner consistent with international law."[83]
  • Several more piracy incidents have occurred in 2008 including a Ukrainian ship, the MV Faina, containing an arms consignment for Kenya, including tanks and other heavy weapons, which was possibly heading towards an area of Somalia controlled by the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) after its hijacking by pirates[84] before anchoring off the Somali coast. The Somali pirates—in a standoff with US missile destroyer the USS Howard—asked for a $20 million ransom for the 20 crew members it held; shots were heard from the ship, supposedly because of a dispute between pirates who wanted to surrender and those who didn't.[85] In a separate incident, occurring near the same time (late September to early October), an Iranian cargo ship, MV Iran Deyanat, departing from China, was boarded by pirates off Somalia. The ship's cargo was a matter of dispute, though some pirates have apparently been sickened, lost hair, suffered burns, and even died while on the ship. Speculations of chemical or even radioactive contents have been made.[86]
  • On November 15, 2008, Somali pirates seized the supertanker MV Sirius Star, 450 miles off the coast of Kenya. The ship was carrying around $100 million worth of oil and had a 25-man crew. This marked the largest tonnage vessel ever seized by pirates.[87]

    A suspected pirate skiff in the Gulf of Aden burns after being destroyed by the amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD 48).
  • On April 8, 2009, Somali pirates briefly captured the MV Maersk Alabama, a 17,000-ton cargo ship containing emergency relief supplies destined for Kenya. It was the latest in a week-long series of attacks along the Somali coast, and the first of these attacks to target a U.S.-flagged vessel. The crew took back control of the ship although the Captain was taken by the escaping pirates to a lifeboat.[88] On Sunday, April 12, 2009, Capt. Richard Phillips was rescued, reportedly in good condition, from his pirate captors who were shot and killed by US Navy SEAL snipers.[89][90] Vice Admiral William E. Gortney reported the rescue began when Commander Frank Castellano, captain of the USS Bainbridge, determined that Phillips' life was in imminent danger and ordered the action.
  • In July 2009, Finnish-owned ship MV Arctic Sea sailing under Maltese flag was allegedly hijacked in the territorial waters of Sweden by a group of eight to ten pirates disguised as policemen. According to some sources, the pirates held the ship for 12 hours, went through the cargo and later released the ship and the crew.[91] However, an investigation into the incident is underway amidst speculation regarding the ship's actual cargo, allegations of cover-up by Russian authorities and Israeli involvement.
  • On April 1, 2010, pirates attacked the USS Nicholas, an Oliver Hazard Perry-class missile frigate in international waters west of the Seychelles. The pirates opened fire from a small skiff at 12:27 am local time, presumably mistaking the warship for a merchant vessel in the dark. The USS Nichlolas returned fire, pursuing the small vessel until it stopped. The U.S. Navy crew detained the three occupants of the skiff as well as two more pirates aboard the mother ship, which was waiting nearby.[92]
  • On October 2, 2010, a 911 call transcript was released detailing an incident of an American tourist who was shot dead by Mexican pirates on a U.S.-Mexico border lake that has been plagued with drug cartel violence in recent years.[93]
Authorities estimate that only between 50%[94][95] to as low as 10%[96] of pirate attacks are actually reported (so as not to increase insurance premiums).

Successful attempts against piracy

U.S. Navy helicopters disrupt a pirate attack on Philippine merchant vessel, March 24, 2011
International ships equipped with helicopters patrol the waters where pirate activity has been reported, but the area is very large. Some ships are equipped with anti-piracy weaponry such as an LRAD, a sonic device that sends a sonic wave out to a directed target, creating a sound so powerful that it bursts the eardrums and shocks pirates, causing them to become disoriented enough to drop their weapons, while the vessel being pursued increases speed and engages in evasive maneuvering.[97] Additional measures used against pirates include the deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and remotely controlled boats.[98]

Legal principles and considerations

Suspected pirates assemble on the deck of a dhow near waters off of western Malaysia, January 2006
Under a principle of international law known as the "universality principle", a government may "exercise jurisdiction over conduct outside its territory if that conduct is universally dangerous to states and their nationals."[106] The rationale behind the universality principle is that states will punish certain acts "wherever they may occur as a means of protecting the global community as a whole, even absent a link between the state and the parties or the acts in question." Under this principle, the concept of "universal jurisdiction" applies to the crime of piracy.[107] For example, the United States has a statute (section 1651 of title 18 of the United States Code) imposing a sentence of life in prison for piracy "as defined by the law of nations" committed anywhere on the high seas, regardless of the nationality of the pirates or the victims.[108]
According to piracy experts,[citation needed] the goal is to "deter and disrupt" pirate activity, and pirates are often detained, interrogated, disarmed, and released. With millions of dollars at stake, pirates have little incentive to stop. In Finland, one case involves pirates who have been captured and whose boat was sunk. No prosecution of the pirates is forthcoming, as pirates attacked a vessel of Singapore and the pirates are not, themselves, EU or Finnish citizens. A further complication is that Singapore law allows the death penalty for piracy and Finland does not. Some countries have been reluctant to utilize the death penalty to stop pirates.[109]
The Dutch are using a 17th-century law against sea robbery to prosecute.[citation needed] Warships that capture pirates have no jurisdiction to try them, and NATO does not have a detention policy in place. Prosecutors have a hard time assembling witnesses and finding translators, and countries are reluctant to imprison pirates because the countries would be saddled with the pirates upon their release.[110]
George Mason University professor Peter Leeson has suggested that the international community appropriate Somali territorial waters and sell them, together with the international portion of the Gulf of Aden, to a private company which would then provide security from piracy in exchange for charging tolls to world shipping through the Gulf.[111][112]

Self protection measures and increased patrol

Private guard escort on a merchant ship providing security services against piracy in the Indian Ocean.
First and foremost, the best protection against piracy is simply to avoid encountering them. This can be accomplished by using tools such as radar.[113]
In addition, while the non-wartime 20th century tradition has been for merchant vessels not to be armed, the U.S. Government has recently changed the rules so that it is now "best practice" for vessels to embark a team of armed private security guards.[114][115] In addition, the crew themselves can be given a weapons training,[116] and warning shots, using less-lethal ammunition, can be fired legally in international waters and/or when sailing under Israeli or Russian flag[dubious ]. Finally, similar to weapons training, remote weapon systems can be implemented to a vessel.[117]
Other measures vessels can take to protect themselves against piracy are implementing a high freewall[118] and vessel boarding protection systems (e.g., hot water wall, electricity-charged water wall, automated fire monitor, slippery foam).[119]
Finally, in an emergency, warships can be called upon. In some areas such as near Somalia, naval vessels from different nations are present that are able to intercept vessels attacking merchant vessels. For patrolling dangerous coastal waters (and/or keeping financial expenses down), robotic or remote-controlled USVs are also sometimes used.[120] Also, both shore-launched and vessel-launched UAVs are also used by the U.S. Army.[121][122]

Commerce raiders

A wartime activity similar to piracy involves disguised warships called commerce raiders or merchant raiders, which attack enemy shipping commerce, approaching by stealth and then opening fire. Commerce raiders operated successfully during the American Revolution. During the American Civil War, the Confederacy sent out several commerce raiders, the most famous of which was the CSS Alabama. During World War I and World War II, Germany also made use of these tactics, both in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Since commissioned naval vessels were openly used, these commerce raiders should not be considered even privateers, much less pirates—although the opposing combatants were vocal in denouncing them as such.

National law

United Kingdom

Merchant seaman aboard a fleet oiler target practices with a 12 gauge shotgun as part of training to repel pirates in the Strait of Malacca.
Section 2 of the Piracy Act 1837 creates a statutory offence of aggravated piracy. See also the Piracy Act 1850.
In 2008 the British Foreign Office advised the Royal Navy not to detain pirates of certain nationalities as they might be able to claim asylum in Britain under British human rights legislation, if their national laws included execution, or mutilation as a judicial punishment for crimes committed as pirates.[123]
Definition of piracy jure gentium
See section 26 of, and Schedule 5 to, the Merchant Shipping and Maritime Security Act 1997. These provisions replace the Schedule to the Tokyo Convention Act 1967. In Cameron v HM Advocate, 1971 SLT 333, the High Court of Justiciary said that that Schedule supplemented the existing law and did not seek to restrict the scope of the offence of piracy jure gentium.
See also:
  • Re Piracy Jure Gentium [1934] AC 586, PC
  • Attorney General of Hong Kong v Kwok-a-Sing (1873) LR 5 PC 179
See section 46(2) of the Senior Courts Act 1981 and section 6 of the Territorial Waters Jurisdiction Act 1878. See also R v Kohn (1864) 4 F & F 68.
Piracy committed by or against aircraft
See section 5 of the Aviation Security Act 1982.
The book "Archbold" said that in a case that does not fall with section 2 of the Piracy Act 1837, the penalty appears to be determined by the Offences at Sea Act 1799, which provides that offences committed at sea are liable to the same penalty as if they had been committed upon the shore.[124]
William Hawkins said that at common law, piracy by a subject was esteemed to be petty treason. The Treason Act 1351 provided that this was not petty treason.[125]
In English admiralty law, piracy was classified as petit treason during the medieval period, and offenders were accordingly liable to be drawn and quartered on conviction. Piracy was redefined as a felony during the reign of Henry VIII. In either case, piracy cases were cognizable in the courts of the Lord High Admiral. English admiralty vice-admiralty judges emphasized that "neither Faith nor Oath is to be kept" with pirates; i.e. contracts with pirates and oaths sworn to them were not legally binding. Pirates were legally subject to summary execution by their captors if captured in battle. In practice, instances of summary justice and annulment of oaths and contracts involving pirates do not appear to have been common.[citation needed]


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