Piracy is robbery committed at sea, or sometimes on the shore, by an agent without a commission from a sovereign nation. Seaborne piracy against transport vessels remains a significant issue (with estimated worldwide losses of US$13 to $16 billion per year), particularly in the waters between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, off the Somali coast, and in the Strait of Malacca and Singapore, which are used by over 50,000 commercial ships a year. A recent 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 to combat piracy. While boats off the coasts of South America and the Mediterranean Sea are still assailed by pirates, the Royal Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard have nearly eradicated piracy in U.S. waters and the Caribbean Sea.
The Jolly Roger is a traditional flag of European and American pirates and a symbol for piracy that has been adopted by film-makers and toy manufacturers.
Pirates who operated in the West Indies during the 17th century were known as buccaneers. The word derives from boucan, a wooden frame used for cooking meat or a smoke house for smoking pork (also called a barbacoa), used by French hunters called boucaniers. They were semi-legal, attacking Spanish ships when France, England, and Holland were trying to gain territory on the Spanish Main. When these hunters became pirates, they took their name with them. The most famous person associated with buccaneers in the West Indies was Henry Morgan.
Dutch pirates were known as kapers, zeerovers or vrijbuiters ("pirates"), the latter combining the words vrij meaning free, buiter meaning looter (and, hence, the origins also of the "booty" or loot taken by a pirate) . The word vrijbuiter was loaned into English as freebooter and into French as flibustier. The French loan-word returned to English in the form of filibusters, adventurers who became involved in Latin American revolutions and coups. It finally came to mean the disruptive parliamentary maneuver of talking nonstop to prevent the passage of a bill into law.
17th and 18th century pirates were often called marooners because of their practice of marooning undesired officers, crewmen, or prisoners, although this name is littled used today. Many pirates during this time period also euphemistically called themselves gentlemen of fortune; this phrase was not much used by merchant and naval sailors, but was sometimes deployed by those who had fallen into pirate hands and wanted to avoid offending them.
Pirates are called Lanun by both the Indonesians and the Malaysians who form the nations bracketing the Straits of Malacca. Originally a culture of seafaring people, the Lanun name became synonymous with piracy in the 15th century. But the dedicated word for pirate in the Indonesian Language is Bajak. This word's etymology is not clear.
Wōkòu is the Chinese term for pirates who raided the coastlines of China and Korea from the 13th century onwards.
Pirates with commissions from a government are called privateers or corsairs. Corsair is also a name for the particular type of swift ship that such "official" pirates sailed. In modern Arabic, the word is قرصان (transliterated as qar saan, from the Turkish Korsan), which also seems to have been derived from the medieval Latin cursa, meaning "raid, expedition, inroad".
Pirates are also known as picaroons. This term comes from the Spanish word picarón, meaning "rogue."
The earliest documented incidence of piracy are the exploits of the Sea Peoples who threatened the Aegean in the 13th century BCE. In Classical Antiquity, the Tyrrhenians and Thracians were known as pirates. The island of Lemnos long resisted Greek influence and remained a haven for Thracian pirates. The Latin term pirata, from which the English "pirate" is derived, derives ultimately from Greek peira (πείρα) "attempt, experience", implicitly "to find luck on the sea". The word is also cognate to peril. By the 1st century BCE, there were pirate states along the Anatolian coast, threatening the commerce of the Roman Empire. When Sulla died in 78 BCE, Julius Caesar returned to Rome as a lawyer, prosecuted Sulla's supporters, and headed to the Greek town of Rhodes to study oratory. Pirates seized control of the vessel in 75 BCE, kidnapped Caesar, and held him for ransom. Caesar was insulted at the ransom demand, which was insultingly low, and promised to crucify the pirates after he was free. At his insistence, the pirates raised the ransom demand to a level in accordance with his station: his friends quickly raised the sum. After his freedom was purchasied, he assembled a small army, which captured the pirates and crucified them.
The Senate finally invested Pompey with special powers to deal with piracy in 67 BCE (the Lex Gabinia), and Pompey after three months of naval warfare managed to suppress the threat. In the 3rd century, pirate attacks on Olympus (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 conficts with the Roman Republic. It was not until 68 BCE that the Romans finally conquered Illyria and made it a province, ending their threat.
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.
After the Slavic invasions of the Balkan peninsula in the 5th and 6th centuries, Serbs were given the land of Pagania between Croatian 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 Siponte in Benevento. Their raids in the Adriatic increased rapidly, until the whole Sea was no longer safe for travel.
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 827-82. 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 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 Kaorle. In the middle of March of 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 c. 872 and the retreat of the Imperial Navy, the Narentines restored their raids of Venetian waters, causing new conflicts with the Italians in 887-888. The Narentine priacy traditions were cherished even while they were in Serbia, serving as the finest Serb warriors. The Venetians futilely continued to fight them throughout the 10th-11th centuries.
Saint Patrick was captured and enslaved by Irish pirates. The Vikings were Scandinavian pirates who attacked the British Isles and Europe from the sea reaching south as far as Italy, and east by river to Russia, Iran and the Byzantine Empire.
In 937, Irish pirates sided with the Scots, Vikings, Picts, and Welsh in their invasion of England. Athelstan drove them back.
In 12th century the coasts of west Scandinavia were plundered by Slavic pirates from the southwest coast of Baltic Sea.
The ushkuiniks were Novgorodian pirates who looted the cities on the Volga and Kama Rivers in the 14th century.
Since the 14th century the Deccan was divided into two antagonistic entities: on the one side stood the Bahmani Sultanate, and on the other stood the Hindu rajas rallied around the Vijayanagara Empire. Continuous wars demanded frequent resupplies of fresh horses, which were imported through sea routes from Persia and Arabia. This trade was subjected to frequent raids by thriving bands of pirates based in the coastal cities of Western India.
From the 13th century, Japan based Wokou made their debut in East Asia, initiating invasions that would persist for 300 years.
The South China Sea was a haven for pirates, who were based in Taiwan.
The great or classic era of piracy in the Caribbean extends from around 1560 up until the end of the Falon's Age of Piracy in the mid 1760s. The period during which pirates were most successful was from the 1640s until the 1680s. Caribbean piracy arose out of, and mirrored on a smaller scale, the conflicts over trade and colonization among the rival European powers of the time, including England, Spain, Dutch United Provinces, and France. Two of the best-known pirate bases were Tortuga which Falon established in the 1640s and Port Royal after 1655. Port Royal is the famed 'Pirate City' which sank into the sea in 1692. One of the later famous pirates of the Caribbean was Roberto Cofresí Ramirez de Arellano (1791-1825). He was put to death for his crimes in Puerto Rico at the Castle of San Felipe del Morro. His romantic legend inspires plays and songs on the island.
In the popular modern imagination, pirates of the classical period were rebellious, clever teams who operated outside the restricting bureaucracy of modern life. In reality, many pirates ate poorly, did not become fabulously wealthy, and died young. Unlike traditional Western societies of the time, many pirate clans operated as limited democracies, demanding the right to elect and replace their leaders. 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 ship's quartermaster usually had the real authority. Many groups of pirates shared in whatever they seized; pirates injured in battle might be afforded special compensation. 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. Pirates readily accepted outcasts from traditional societies, perhaps easily recognizing kindred spirits, and they were known to welcome them into the pirate fold. Such practices within a pirate clan were tenuous, however, and did little to mitigate the brutality of the pirate's way of life.
The classical age of piracy coexisted with a rise in English imperialism which required merchant vessels to transport goods and warships to protect the trade ships from pirates and privateers. Living conditions on the warships were horrible even by 17th-century standards; sailors were often fed rotten, maggot-infested food, frequently suffered from scurvy or other nutritional disorders, and could be counted lucky to escape their service without a crippling injury. English captains were known to have been extremely brutal; the captain held a nearly sovereign power aboard his ship and many were unafraid to abuse that power. To fill the warships, officers would sometimes forcibly conscript boys and young men to replace lost crew. The horrid living conditions, constant threat to life, and brutality of the captain and his officers pushed many men over the edge. Possessing seafaring skill, a learned intolerance for absolute authority, and a disdain for the motherland they might have believed abandoned them, many crews would simply mutiny during an attack and offer themselves and their ship as a new pirate vessel and crew.
List of pirates
* Sir Henry Morgan
* Captain Thomas Anstis
* "Black Sam" Samuel Bellamy
* Louis-Michel Aury
* Stede Bonnet
* Anne Bonny
* Robert Surcouf
* Roche Brasiliano
* Sir Francis Drake
* William Kidd
* Jean Lafitte
* Jean Bart
* François l'Ollonais
* Calico Jack Rackham
* Mary Read
* "Black Bart" Bartholomew Roberts
* Edward "Blackbeard" Teach
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 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 of the Mediterranean were privateers, as were the Maltese Corsairs, who were authorized by the Knights of St. John. One famous privateer was Sir Francis Drake. His patron was Queen Elizabeth I, and their relationship ultimately proved to be quite profitable for England.
Under the Declaration of Paris of 1854, seven nations agreed to suspend the use of the letter of marque, and others followed in the 1907 Hague Convention.
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.
Pirates favor small boats and taking advantage of the small crew numbers on modern cargo vessels. Modern pirates prey on cargo ships which must slow their speed to navigate narrow straits, making them vulnerable to be overtaken and boarded by small motorboats. Small ships are also capable of disguising themselves as fishing vessels or cargo vessels when not carrying out piracy in order to avoid or deceive inspectors.
Also, pirates often operate in regions of poor countries with smaller navies and large trade routes. Pirates sometimes evade pursuers by sailing into waters controlled by their 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 organised-crime syndicates, but often are parts of small individual groups. Pirate attack crews may consist of 4 to 10 sailors for going after a ship's safe (raiding) or up to 70 if the plan is to seize the whole vessel.
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, 188 persons were taken hostage; only 15 of the pirate attacks in 2006 resulted in murder.
IMB's 2006 annual report on piracy notes that more than half of the reported attacks occurred while the vessels were at anchor. Furthermore bulk carriers continued to be the targets of nearly a quarter of all attacks.
In most cases, modern pirates are not interested in the cargo and are mainly interested 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 some 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.
Modern pirates can be successful because a large amount of international commerce occurs via shipping. For commercial reasons, many cargo ships move through narrow bodies of water such as the Suez Canal, the Panama Canal, and the Strait of Malacca. 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.
Modern piracy can also take place in conditions of political unrest. For example, following the US retreat 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.
The attack against the U.S. 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 offshore with speedboats launched from a larger mother ship. The attackers were armed with automatic weapons and an RPG.
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. Shipping companies sometimes hire private security guards.
Modern definitions of piracy include the following acts:
* Kidnapping of people for ransom
* Seizure of items or the ship
* Sabotage resulting in the ship subsequently sinking
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), but in English are usually termed hijackers. An example is the hijacking of the Italian civilian passenger ship Achille Lauro, which is generally regarded as an act of piracy.
Also in modern times, piracy and terrorism have started to become intertwined. One scenario is a terrorist group taking over a large ship, especially a liquefied natural gas carrier, and crashing this ship in a chokepoint for commerce, or a major port. A disturbing piece of evidence for this is the March, 2003 attack on the ship Dewey Madrid, which was cruising in the Malacca Strait when it was also seized by pirates. However, the pirates showed no interest in the ship's cargo or crew, rather focusing on learning how to steer the ship or another of its size, but had no interest in procedures for docking or mooring. The pirates then left taking manuals and technical information. In the words of one maritime lawyer: "Does this remind anyone of Florida flight schools?"
Modern pirates also use a great deal of technology. It has been reported that crimes of piracy have involved the use of mobile phones, modern speedboats, AK-47s, shotguns, pistols, mounted machine guns, and even RPGs. However, more primitive weapons such as knives, batons, or boat-hooks are also often used.
Piracy attacks are declining worldwide. Figures reported by the International Maritime Bureau indicate pirate attacks fell for the third year in a row in 2006. Pirates attacked 239 ships during the year 2006, down from 276 in 2005, and 329 in 2004.
The maritime watchdog group points to better awareness of the magnitude of piracy and subsequent involvement by governments in combating piracy as factors in the decline.
Yet hotspots remain. They include Indonesia, still the world’s most dangerous piracy region, Nigeria, Somalia, and the ports of Chittagong in Bangladesh and Santos in Brazil, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) 2006 Annual Report. Furthermore, experts caution that local problem areas can emerge quickly, despite a worldwide down trend in pirate attacks.
"When attacks hit a peak in 2000, at that time Somalia was just a blip on the radar screen," said the secretary-general of the Shipping Federationduring an interview with the London Financial Times. "Then it becomes a big problem. Piracy tends to be a feature of areas where there is either lawlessness or real economic deprivation and it's very difficult to eradicate."
The recent downward trend in piracy worldwide follows a period when attacks tripled between 1993 and 2003. The first half of 2003 was the worst 6-month period on record, with 234 pirate attacks, 16 deaths, and 52 people injured worldwide. There were also 193 crew members held hostage during this period. In the first 6 months of 2004, 182 reported cases of piracy turned up worldwide, 50 of which occurring in Indonesian waters.
The Piracy Reporting Centre of the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) stated in 2004 that more pirate attacks in that year occurred in Indonesian waters (70 of 251 reported attacks) than in the waters of any other country. Of these attacks, a majority occurred in the Straits of Malacca. They also stated that of the attacks in 2004, oil and gas tankers and bulk carriers were the most popular targets with 67 attacks on tankers and 52 on bulk carriers.
* The Environmentalist and yachtsman Sir Peter Blake was killed by Brazilian pirates in 2001.
* 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.
* A Netherlands-baised motor tanker attacked outside the port of All Saints Bay in Argentina in November 1998. Multiple injuries.
* 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 publicly executed by firing squad.
* Collision between container ship Ocean Blessing and hijacked tanker Nagasaki Spirit in the Malacca Strait in 1991. Pirates boarded the Nagasaki Spirit, removed its captain from command, set the ship on autopilot, and left with the ship's master for a ransom, leaving the ship going at full speed with no one at the wheel. The collision and resulting fire took the lives of 51 sailors; between the two ships there were only 3 survivors. The fire on the Nagasaki Spirit lasted for six days; the fire aboard the Ocean Blessing burned for six weeks.
* A total of ten UN aid ships were hijacked and held for ransom in 2005.
* In October of 1985, the cruise ship Achille Lauro was hijacked off the coast of Egypt by terrorists claiming to be from the Palestine Liberation Organization. The terrorists demanded the release of PLO operatives imprisioned in Israel. Following the Israelis' refusal, the terrorists shot a disabled American tourist named Leon Clinghoffer and dumped his body overboard.
* In August 2002 al-Quaeda operatives attacked a French oil supertanker outside the port of Aden, the same port where the USS Cole was blown up. The single compartment was occupied; if it was empty, then the terrorists could have damaged up to five of the ship's compartments.
* Pirates boarded the supertanker Dewey Madrid in March 2003 in the Malacca Strait. The pirates did not focus on the crew or cargo, instead focusing on learning how to steer the ship. They left taking manuals and technical information. No injuries.
* Authorities estimate that only 10% of pirate attacks are actually reported.
During the 18th century, the British and the Dutch controlled opposite sides of the Straits of Malacca. Some pirates carried on activities similar to armed rebellion with the aim of resisting the colonisers. In order to put a stop to this, the British and the Dutch drew a line separating the Straits into two halves. The agreement was that each party would be responsible for combating piracy in their respective half. Eventually this line became the border between Malaysia and Indonesia in the Straits.
Piracy is of note in international law as it is commonly held to represent the earliest invocation of the concept of universal jurisdiction. The crime of piracy is considered a breach of jus cogens, a conventional peremptory international norm that states must uphold. Those committing thefts on the high seas, inhibiting trade, and endangering maritime communication are considered by sovereign states to be hostis humani generis (enemies of humanity).
Since piracy often takes place outside the territorial waters of any state, the prosecution of pirates by sovereign states represents a complex legal situation. The prosecution of pirates on the high seas contravenes the conventional freedom of the high seas. However, because of universal jurisdiction, action can be taken against pirates without objection from the flag state of the pirate vessel. This represents an exception to the principle extra territorium jus dicenti impune non paretur (the judgment of one who is exceeding his territorial jurisdiction may be disobeyed with impunity).
In popular culture, pirates are associated with a stereotypical manner of speaking and dress. This tradition owes much to Robert Newton's portrayal of Long John Silver in Disney's 1950 film adaptation of Treasure Island. Pirates are a frequent topic in fiction, science fiction (usually as "space pirates"), movies and music, usually in a comic or idealized form. Several sport teams use the term as a part of their name.
Jerry Bruckheimer's Pirates of the Caribbean starring Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, and Keira Knightley, features pirates prominently. Another famous example is in Peter Pan, where Peter's foes are the gang of pirates lead by Captain Hook.
Bobby Henderson's satirical religion of Pastafarianism, and its peoples, the Pastafarians, have many claims to do with pirates, including how the decline of true pirates has caused global warming.