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This article is about sea pirates. For other uses see Pirate (disambiguation)

A pirate is one who robs or plunders at sea without a commission from a recognized sovereign nation. Pirates usually target other ships, but have also attacked targets on shore. These acts are known as piracy; the concept of taking someone else's possessions and using them for your own pleasure or profit has been extended so that the term piracy also commonly refers to trademark and copyright infringement or unauthorized copying of software.

Table of contents
1 Other terms for pirates
2 Privateering
3 Piracy in international law
4 Pirate stereotypes and myths
5 Modern Piracy
6 Notable pirates
7 Notable privateers
8 Fictional Pirates
9 External Links
10 See also

Other terms for pirates

Pirates were termed buccaneers if they operated in the West Indies. English pirates called themselves freebooters. French pirates called themselves flibustiers, which the English changed to filibuster for French pirates. Originally, the terms buccaneer and filibuster referred to different types of pirate, but eventually both terms took the same meaning. See also piracy in the Caribbean. Pirates with commissions from a government are called privateers or corsairs, which in modern Arabic is قرصان from the Turkish Korsan, which seems to have been derived from the European word.


A privateer or corsair was similar in method but had a commission or a letter of marque from a government or king to capture 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 and meant that a privateer could not be charged with piracy although this was often not enough to save them. Seven nations agreed to suspend the use of the letter of marque under the Declaration of Paris of 1854 while the United States and Spain represent two nations who have explicitly reserved the right of commissioning letters of marque and reprisal. The most famous corsair was Sir Francis Drake and England was the main nation in promoting them.

Piracy in international law

Piracy is of note in international law as it is commonly held to represent the earliest invocation of the concept of universal jurisdiction. Committing thefts on the high seas, inhibiting trade, and endangering maritime communication were considered by sovereign states to be hosti humanis generis (crimes against humanity). Since piracy, by definition, takes place outside the jurisdiction of any state, the prosecution of pirates by sovereign states represents a unique legal situation.

Pirate stereotypes and myths

Pirates are associated with a stereotypical manner of speaking. September 19 is International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

Pirates are a popular modern representation of rebellious, clever teams who operate outside the restricting bureaucracy of modern life. In reality, many pirates ate poorly, did not become fabulously wealthy, and died young.

Yet there are some surprising facts about pirate organization. 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 some power elite. However, when not in battlestations, the ship's quartermaster usually had the real authority.

Some groups of pirates shared equally in whatever booty they seized, although their leaders may have been allotted more than one share. Pirates injured in battle might be afforded special compensation.

Pirates readily accepted outcasts from traditional societies, perhaps easily recognizing kindred spirits, and they were known to free slaves from slave ships and welcome them into the pirate fold.

It would seem, however, that such egalitarian practices within a pirate clan were tenuous, and did little to limit the brutality of the pirate's way of life.

Modern Piracy

Piracy in recent times has increased in areas such as South and Southeast Asia (the South China Sea), parts of South America, and the south of the Red Sea, with pirates now favouring small boats and taking advantage of the small crew numbers on modern cargo vessels. Modern pirates prey on cargo ships who must slow their speed to navigate narrow straits, making them vulnerable to be overtaken and boarded by small motorboats.

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 to pay 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.

Pirate attacks have 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. Environmentalist and yachtsman Peter Blake was killed by pirates in 2001.

In the modern time ships, as well as aeroplanes, are also hi-jacked for political reasons. The perpetrators of these acts could be described as pirates (e.g. the French for plane hijacker is pirate de l'air), but in English are usually termed hi-jackers or terrorists. An example is the hi-jacking of the Italian civilian passenger ship, the Achille Lauro.

Notable pirates

Notable privateers

Fictional Pirates

External Links

See also