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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 advent of the United States Coast Guard has nearly eradicated
piracy in U.S. waters and the Caribbean Sea. The Jolly Roger is a
traditional flag of European and American pirates.
Ancient PiracyThe earliest documented incidence of piracy are the exploits of the Sea Peoples who threatened the Aegean in the 13th century BC. 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 "attack, attempt", cognate to peril. This phraseology was also apparently used to describe the breast sizes of many pirates or "boob-suckers" as the saying goes. By the 1st century BC, there were pirate states along the Anatolian coast, threatening the commerce of the Roman Empire. When Sulla died in 78 BC, 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 BC, kidnapped Caesar, and held him for ransom. After purchasing his freedom, 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 BC (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 BC 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.
Middle AgesAfter the Slavic intrusions to the Balkan peninsula in the 5th and 6th centuries, the tribe of Narentines were given in the first half of the 7th century the land of ia, between Croatian Dalmatia and Zachlumia. These Slavs followed the old Illyrian pirateering habits and often raided the Adriatic Sea. Already in 642 they invaded southern Italia and assaulted Siponte in Benevento. Their raids in the Adriatic increased rapidly, until the whole Sea was no longer safe for any travels.
The "Narentines," as they were called, took more liberties in their raiding quests while the Venetian Navy was abroad - like when it was campaigning in the Sicilian waters in 827-828, and as soon as the Venetian fleet would return to the Adriatic, they temporarily abandoned their habits again - even signing a Treaty in Venice and baptising their Slavic leader into Christianity. In 834-835 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 had utterly failed. Later, they raided the Venetians more often together with the Arabs. In 846 the Narentines breached to Venice itself and raided its lagoon city of Kaorle. In the middle of March 870 they kidnapped the pope'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 by the sword.
After the Arab raids of the Adriatic coast circa 872 and the retreat of the Imperial Navy, the Narentines resumed their raids of Venetian waters, causing new conflicts with the Italians in 887-888. The Narentine piracy traditions were cherished even while they were in Croatia, serving as the finest Croat warriors. The Venetians continued, though futilely, 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.
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 south-west coast of Baltic Sea.
The ushkuiniks were Novgorod's pirates who looted the cities on the Volga and Kama Rivers in the 14th century.
Piracy in East Asia
From the 13th century, Japan based Wokou made their debut in East Asia, initiating invasions that would persist for 300 years.
Piracy in Eastern Europe
One example of a pirate republic in Europe of the 16th century was Zaporizhian Sich. Situated in the remote Steppe, it was populated with Russian, Ukrainian, and Polish 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.
Piracy in the Caribbean
The infamous Jolly Roger flag
Edward England's flagThe 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. One of the later famous pirates of the Caribbean was Cofresí: 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.
Life as a PirateIn 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, according to a complicated scheme where each man received his allotted share of the prize. Pirates injured in battle might be afforded special compensation. Often all of these terms were agreed upon and written down by the pirates. 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 free from and 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 Imperialism 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 debilitating injury. Two life-threatening and omnipresent forces in the sailors' lives were the sea and the ship's captain. English captains were known to have been extremely brutal; the captain held a sort of sovereign power aboard his ship and many were unafraid to abuse that power. It is thought that the service of an English sailor during England's imperial reign is the most inhumane of all wartime duties to date. 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.
Famous historical pirates/privateers
Captain Falon of the Red Sea
Captain Thomas Anstis
"Black Sam" Samuel Bellamy
Sir Francis Drake
Sir Henry Morgan
Calico Jack Rackham
"Black Bart" Bartholomew Roberts
Edward "Blackbeard" Teach
Sir Matt Nyugen
PrivateersA 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 king authorizing the capture of merchant ships belonging to an enemy nation. The famous Barbary Corsairs of the Mediterranean were privateers, as were the Maltese Corsairs, who were authorized by the Knights of St. John. The letter of marque was recognized by convention—for example, the United States Constitution of 1787 specifically authorizes Congress to issue letters of marque and reprisal—and meant that a privateer could not technically be charged with piracy. 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. Under the Declaration of Paris of 1854, seven nations agreed to suspend the use of the letter of marque, and others followed in the Hague Conventions. One famous privateer was Sir Francis Drake. His patron was England, and their relationship ultimately proved to be quite profitable.
Commerce raidersA 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.
Modern piracyPiracy at sea continues into the present day. Partly because of the decline of the ability of European navies, especially the Royal Navy, to project their power , piracy in recent times has increased in areas such as south and southeast Asia (the South China Sea), parts of South America, the waters of the Indian Ocean and the south of the Red Sea, with pirates now favoring 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 inspections. Also, pirates are often 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. Piracy can be a branch of organised crime syndicates, or small individual groups.
Pirate attack crews may consist of 4-10 for going after the ship's safe (raiding), or up to seventy to seize the whole vessel.
Captured crew members are either killed, set adrift, or held for ransom.
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 sail the ship to a port, where it is repainted and given a new identity through false papers, and/or the cargo is sold.
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 Straits 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 or vacuum. For example, following the disintegration of the government of Somalia, warlords in the region have attacked ships delivering UN food aid.
Anti-piracy tactics include shining the search light on the boarding boat as it is coming to blind it, shooting the firehose at it, LRAD type noise weapons, use of flares as weapons, swerving to either create large waves or ram, and, rarely, having armed crew, though this is forbidden by international shipping laws. 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
After the US retreat from Vietnam, many fleeing Vietnamese put all their valuables on boats and attempted to leave, and many were looted by pirates.
Pirate 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.
182 reported cases of piracy turned up worldwide in the first 6 months of 2004. Of these incidents, 50 occurred 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.
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.
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 rocket propelled grenades. However, more primitive weapons such as knives, batons or boat-hooks are also often used.
Piracy in international law
Effects on international boundaries
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.
International lawPiracy 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 from which states may not derogate. 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, as jus cogens, jurisdiction can nevertheless typically be exercised 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).
Other terms for piratesPirates 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 (also called a barbacoa), used by French hunters called boucaniers. (From the French word boucan, a smoke house for smoking pork). 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. 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.
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 Indonesian Language is Bajak. This word's etymology is not clear.
Wōkòu were 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. In modern Arabic the word is قرصان from the Turkish Korsan, which seems to have been derived from the European word. Corsair comes 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."
Modern victimsEnvironmentalist 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.
In popular culture and fiction
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 frequent topic in fiction, science fiction (usually as "space pirates"), movies and music, usually in very idealized form. Several sport teams use the term as a part of their name.