or Pyrates? What Gives?!
Nothing really. Today, the words "Pirate" or "Piracy"
are spelled with an "I". In the Golden Age of Piracy,
spelling was a haphazard kind of thing, and the word was often spelled
with a "y". So there was a time when the word Pirate
was spelled Pyrate, Pirate, Pyrat, or Pirat. I
use pyrates, just for the whimsy and feel of it.
What is Piracy?
Despite what Johnny Depp thinks, pirates were not the rock stars
of the 18th century. However as time marches on, the fictional accounts
of the common sea robbers has created a romantic illusion of pirate's
life. Charles Johnson called piracy "The Great Mischief and
Danger Which Threatens Kingdoms and Commonwealths". His fantastic
"true" accounts of the robbers and murderers of the sea
may be the beginning of the romantization of the pirate's life.
But how true were Charles Johnson's accounts and why was piracy
By definition, piracy is any robbery or other violent action, for
private ends and without authorization by public authority, committed
on the seas or in the air outside the normal jurisdiction of any
state. Because piracy has been regarded as an offense against the
law of nations, the public vessels of any state have been permitted
to seize a pirate ship, to bring it into port, to try the crew (regardless
of their nationality or domicile), and, if found guilty, to punish
them and to confiscate the ship.
A key point in the definition of piracy: according to international
law, is that the act takes place outside the normal jurisdiction
of a state, without state authority, and that the intent is private,
not political. Thus, although acts of unlawful warfare, acts of
insurgents and revolutionists, mutiny, and slave trading have been
defined as piracy by national laws of various countries or by special
treaties, they are not, in most cases, piracy by international law.
Article 101 of the United
Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) defines piracy
(a) any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation,
committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private
ship or a private aircraft, and directed
(i) on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against
persons or property on board such ship or aircraft.
(ii) against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place
outside the jurisdiction of any State,
(b) any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship
or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship
(c) any act inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described
in sub-paragraph (a) or (b).
Piracy has occurred in all stages of history. In the ancient Mediterranean,
piracy was often closely related to maritime commerce, and the Phoenicians
appear to have engaged in both, as did the Greeks, Romans, and Carthaginians.
In the Middle Ages, Vikings from the north and Moors from the south
also engaged in piracy. At the conclusion of European wars during
the Renaissance and after, naval vessels would be laid up and their
crews disbanded. From among these men, pirates recruited their crews.
A common source of piracy, for instance, was the privateer, a privately
owned and armed ship commissioned by a government to make reprisals,
to gain reparation for specified offenses in time of peace, or to
prey upon the enemy in time of war, with the right of the officers
and crew to share in prize money from captured vessels. The temptation
was great to continue this profitable business after the war without
authorization. During the Elizabethan wars with Spain in the late
16th century, treasure-laden Spanish galleons proceeding from Mexico
into the Caribbean were a natural target for privateers, and the
line between privateering and piracy became difficult to draw.
With the collapse of the Turkish Empire in the 16th century, piracy
once again became common in the Mediterranean. This new outbreak
was due to the virtual independence of the Barbary States of North
Africa from Turkish control. Morocco, Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli
not only tolerated piracy but sponsored it. This action led to the
four countries being branded "the Pirate States". In the
early 19th century the Pirate States were suppressed by successive
actions of American, British, and French forces.
The increased size of merchant vessels, the improved naval patrolling
of most ocean highways, the regular administration of most islands
and land areas of the world, and the general recognition by governments
of piracy as an international offense resulted in a great decline
in piracy in the 19th and 20th centuries. Piracy has, however, occurred
in the 20th century in the South China Sea, and the practice of
hijacking ships or airplanes has developed into a new form of piracy.
Much of the Piracy in the Caribbean may be related to drug smuggling.
In the South China Seas, much of the piracy is typical of the piracy
that has plagued the oceans since man first ventured off to sea.
Typically, armed thugs will try to sneak on board a ship and try
and overcome the crew in an attempt to steal the cargo. Today, the
sloop had been replaced by small motorboats. Often ships are attacked
while docked and most of the crew is away. Typically the pirates
of today are armed with axes and long knives. Occasionally some
may have guns. They tend not to fight hard and prefer to flee if
the crew manages to organize any kind of defense.
According to the latest statistics
(June, 2006) from the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre:
"...global piracy increased slightly in the first quarter
of 2006. Reported attacks have risen approximately 8% when compared
with the same period in 2005. The actual number of reported piracy
attacks in the first three months of 2006 was 61, a modest increase
over the 56 attacks noted in the same period of the previous year."
As can be expected where ever unstable governments are found,
piracy tends to flourish. In January, 2006 the seas around Iraq
were declared a Piracy hot zone with 10 attacks occurring 2005.
no acts of piracy were reported in 2004.
During 2004 pirates preying on shipping were more violent than
ever in. In that year Pirates murdered a total of 30 crew members,
compared with 21 in 2003, according to the ICC International Maritime
Bureau 2004 Annual report on pi racy.. The number of attacks reported
worldwide through the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre in Kuala Lumpur
was 325, down from the 445 recorded in 2003.
The following are some actual incident reports from the waters
around Indonesia. As you can see there is really nothing romantic
about these thugs:
- 06.07.2005 at 0550 UTC at Kingston anchorage, Jamaica.
Five robbers armed with long knives boarded a container ship.
They threatened duty A/B with knives. They broke locks of storerooms
and opened a container on deck. Alert crew raised alarm and robbers
escaped empty handed in their boat. Master informed authorities
and two hours later coast guard came for investigation.
- 06.07.2005 at 0030 LT at Dumai inner anchorage, 01:42.3N-101:26.7E,
Three armed robbers boarded a bulk carrier. Alert duty A/B raised
alarm and crew mustered and robbers escaped in their boat. Master
informed authorities but received no response.
- 06.07.2005 at 0100 LT at Surabaya, Indonesia.
Robbers boarded a bulk carrier and stole a life raft and ship's
The following was is an excerpt of Piracy around the Horn of Africa
Piracy heats up in Somali waters
London, 21 June 2005
The abduction of crew poses a serious threat to shipping in Somali
ICC’s International Maritime Bureau (IMB) warns that acts
of piracy are on the rise in Somali waters. Since March 2005, there
have been at least five attempted hijackings, two of which escalated
into full blown acts of life-threatening piracy. This rise in threatening
activity comes after a period of relative calm. Only two incidents
of piracy were recorded in the whole of 2004.
Captain Pottengal Mukundan, Director of IMB stated: “IMB
has received reports of pirates armed with automatic weapons and
rocket propelled grenades. Innocent craft are approached by numerous
pirate craft, arriving from different directions, firing indiscriminately
at the bridge in an attempt to force the vessel to stop. In recent
attacks at least one crew member was killed after pirates took control
of a vessel.”
The attacks are noted for the pirates’use of distress flares
as a means of luring their prey. Once the target vessel approaches,
the heavily armed hijackers typically attack using a number of speedboats.
Most of the recent targets were attacked while underway, and several
shipmasters were forced to take evasive action to shake off their
Pirates in Somali waters have targeted everything that floats
from fishing vessels and yachts to bulk carriers, general cargo
ships and even a tanker aiming to steal valuables from the ship,
or holding the crew for ransom.
In the latest incident on 6 June, three pirates armed with automatic
weapons attacked the bulk carrier MV Tigris from a white speedboat
off the coast of Mogadishu. The master of the Tigris sent out a
distress call picked up by an American warship, USS Gonzalez. Using
flares and searchlights, the warship scared off the pirates. No
injuries to the crew were reported, though at least ten bullet holes
were found in the starboard side of the Tigris near the bridge.
In an incident on 5 May, pirates boarded a general cargo vessel
off Somalia’s eastern coast. The 21 crew members were beaten
and locked in a room and the attackers demanded a ransom to release
them and the ship. IMB is awaiting further news about this incident.
Captain Mukundan noted: “The lack of any stable or coherent
government in Somalia is contributing to this lawlessness in its
waters. Local warlords are interested in making money above all
else, and hijacking commercial vessels has proven to be an expedient
method of doing so.”
Because of the frequency and violence of recent attacks, IMB recommends
that unless vessels are scheduled to call at ports in the area,
they remain at least 50 miles off the coast of Eastern Somalia.
The effects of this recommendation and the piracy activities in
the area will be regularly monitored by IMB.
Now and then, how has it changed?
For the most part, piracy has changed very little over the years.
The changes are basically those of technology not motive or method.
Today's pirates tend to work in small groups of about a dozen men,
operating from an unassuming water craft, perhaps a high speed boat
or a fishing trawler, the equivalent of yesteryears sloop. Typically
their vessels are not armed. It is more important for them to pass
unnoticed when approached by law enforcement or military vessels.
For the most part the pirates are lightly armed with knives and
perhaps pistols. Occasionally automatic weapons may be present,
depending on the area the pirates are operating. There motive is
greed. In some cases the pirates may work under contract for a corrupt
warlord in a third world country. By strict definition this may
not be consider piracy but terrorism if the acts are politically
motivated. Often the war lord may have political reasons for the
acts but often the pirates are doing it for the money and/or offer
For the most part, the pirates attack cargo or merchant ships.
As with the days of old, they come in from the stern and try to
board by tossing grappling hooks at the target vehicle. Also as
with the days of old, the pirates sometimes try to get some of their
brethren onboard the ship before it sets sails. By doing so, they
have an inside man to signal them when is a good time to strike
and aid in the boarding.
The pirates rely on surprise when it comes to boarding a ship.
If the crew puts up a determined fight, the pirates cut and run.
If they are successful in capturing a ship, they tend to demand
money and other items that are easily transferred to their own ship.
Sometimes the pirates will resort to kidnapping in order to make
money. This is especially true these days, around the horn of Africa
and is very similar to the actions of the Barbary pirates. For the
most part, once the pirates have stolen what they can, they tie
up the crew and make a hasty get away. As with the days of old,
if the crew put a fight, then the pirates may beat or kill the crew.
The pirates of today, tend not to venture too far out to sea preferring
to work the coastal regions and occasionally the known trade routes.
This is all very similar to what the pirates of old did. Unfortunately,
our impressions of the pirates of yesteryear is influenced by movies
such as Pirates of the Caribbean, Captain Blood,
and The Black Swan. Most of the pirates of old were not
Black Bart Roberts or Edward Teach. Most did not have mighty three
masted ships with 42 guns. Many had fishing sloops with one or two
guns and crew a dozen or so men. Often our view of the pirates of
old should be reserved for the privateers, a different breed of
The question was posed "why was piracy romanticized?"
One reason probably has to do with the history of the world at the
beginning of the 18th Century. Spain controlled the Americas. it
had the biggest and strongest Navy in the world. It was the superpower.
Great Britain wanted to be the superpower. What it lacked was the
resources to build a navy strong enough to take on the Spaniards
at their own game. The answer was privateering, or a mercenary navy.
The privateers became the heroes or rock stars of England and the
scourge of her enemies. Because privateers are no longer used by
the nations of the world, the distinction between pirates and privateers
this be today's pirate ship?
Sport fishing boat or pirate vessel?
Hard to tell! Capable of short travel over open seas, and
relatively fast, a vessel such a this sport fishing trawler
would be ideal for the small pirate crew of today. Passing
themselves off as six or seven tourists on a fishing excursion,
the pirates can come in close to unsuspecting vessels and
do their dirty work. The same type of tactic worked hundreds
of years ago when well built fishing sloops were used by coastal
How would today's pirates manage to afford such a start-up
vessel? They can't! They obtain their boats the same way pirates
did hundreds of years ago. They steal them!
Gone are the days of the cutlass and
flintlock! The cutlass has been replaced by large knives
such as the Kukri (top right) and a military style Machete
The Ak74u Krink (middle), a former Eastern
Block assault weapon was made famous by the terrorist,
Osama bin-Laden. It would be prize indeed for some of
the more enterprising pirates of today. This version
is a Yugoslavian import
A more common fire-arm would be a 9mm pistol; such
as the IZH-71H (lower right). This handy pistol is the
export version of the Russian Military Makarov Pistol,
chambered to fire 38ACP (9 mm short) ammunition. It
is common catch in Malaysia and around the Horn of Africa.
30 rounds standard
Overall length :
735 mm (29 in.)
490 mm (19 1/4 in.)
210 mm (8 1/4 in.)
2.71 kg (6 lbs)
Rate of fire :
.380ACP (9mm K)
Overall length, mm
165mm (6.5 in.)
94mm (3.7 in.)
0.78 kg (1.71 lbs)
of the modern pirate