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The Piracy Portal


The traditional "Jolly Roger" of piracy.

Piracy is an act of robbery or criminal violence by ship or boat-borne attackers upon another ship or a coastal area, typically with the goal of stealing cargo and other valuable items or properties. Those who engage in acts of piracy are called pirates. The earliest documented instances of piracy were in the 14th century BC, when the Sea Peoples, a group of ocean raiders, attacked the ships of the Aegean and Mediterranean civilizations. Narrow channels which funnel shipping into predictable routes have long created opportunities for piracy, as well as for privateering and commerce raiding. Historic examples include the waters of Gibraltar, the Strait of Malacca, Madagascar, the Gulf of Aden, and the English Channel, whose geographic structures facilitated pirate attacks. A land-based parallel is the ambushing of travelers by bandits and brigands in highways and mountain passes. Privateering uses similar methods to piracy, but the captain acts under orders of the state authorizing the capture of merchant ships belonging to an enemy nation, making it a legitimate form of war-like activity by non-state actors.

While the term can include acts committed in the air, on land (especially across national borders or in connection with taking over and robbing a car or train), or in other major bodies of water or on a shore, this article focuses on maritime piracy. It does not normally include crimes committed against people traveling on the same vessel as the perpetrator (e.g. one passenger stealing from others on the same vessel). Piracy or pirating 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. In the early 21st century, seaborne piracy against transport vessels remains a significant issue (with estimated worldwide losses of US$16 billion per year in 2007), particularly in the waters between the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, off the Somali coast, and also in the Strait of Malacca and Singapore.

Today, pirates armed with automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenades use small motorboats to attack and board ships, a tactic that takes advantage of the small number of crew members on modern cargo vessels and transport ships. They also use larger vessels, known as "mother ships", to supply the smaller motorboats. The international community is facing many challenges in bringing modern pirates to justice, as these attacks often occur in international waters. Some nations have used their naval forces to protect private ships from pirate attacks and to pursue pirates, and some private vessels use armed security guards, high-pressure hoses or sound cannons to repel boarders, and use radar to avoid potential threats.

Selected biography

This print dates to the 18th century. The name of the author is unknown. Pirate captain Henry Every is depicted on shore while his ship, the Fancy, engages an unidentified vessel.
Henry Every (also Avery or Avary) is thought to have been born somewhere between c. 1653 and c. 1659 in Plymouth, England, or the surrounding area. He disappeared from all records after 1696 and may have died in 1699. He was an English pirate/marooner whose aliases included John Avary, Long Ben, and Benjamin Bridgeman. He is most famous for being one of the few major pirate captains to retire with his loot without being arrested or killed in battle, and also for being the perpetrator of the most profitable pirate raid in history.

During his career, the media in England portrayed Every as a notorious criminal, but he was a popular hero, and a sort of maritime Robin Hood as he exemplified the working class idea that rebellion and piracy were acceptable ways to fight back against unfair captains and societies. Every’s story inspired many other men to take up piracy, including the infamous Captain Kidd. Every's life inspired a number of accounts including The Life and Adventures of Captain John Avery (c. 1709); a 1712 play, The Successful Pyrate by Charles Johnson, which was thought to be a pen name for Daniel Defoe; and a 1724 book by Daniel Defoe, The king of the pirates, being an account of the famous enterprises of Captain Avary. His career inspired, very loosely, that of Captain Ben Avery, the hero of George MacDonald Fraser's 1983 spoof novel The Pyrates.

Selected article

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The Pirate Round was a sailing route followed by certain Anglo-American pirates, and was most active from about 1693 to 1700 and then again from 1719 to 1721. The course led from the western Atlantic, around the southern tip of Africa, stopping at Madagascar, then on to targets such as the coast of Yemen and India. Pirates who followed the route are sometimes called "Roundsmen" and "Red Sea Men." Some the most famous Roundsmen include Thomas Tew, Henry Every, Edward England, John Taylor, Olivier Levasseur, and Christopher Condent.

The Pirate Round was largely co-extensive with the routes of the East India Company ships, of Britain and other nations. From 1700 to 1718, the Pirate Round went into decline. The end of British participation in the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714) led to an explosive increase in piracy in the Caribbean, but did not yet revive the Pirate Round. However, in 1718 Woodes Rogers pacified Nassau, while colonial Virginia and South Carolina prosecuted aggressive anti-pirate campaigns, destroying Blackbeard, Stede Bonnet, and Richard Worley. Caribbean and Atlantic pirates began to seek safer hunting grounds, leading to a brief resurgence in the Pirate Round that lasted from 1719 to 1721. (more...)

Selected quotations

Did you know...

Piratey, vector version.svg
  • ...that English pirate Henry Every, who was sometimes known as Long Ben, was one of the few major pirate captains to retire with his loot without being arrested or killed in battle?
  • ...that red Jolly Roger flags were the most feared of all; all prayed they never encountered the "Bloody Red," which boldly declared that no mercy would be shown and all victims would be killed?
  • ...that, while it is unknown if pirates actually kept parrots as pets, it is thought that at least some captains kept cats aboard to keep populations of rats and other vermin down?
  • ...that, unlike traditional Western societies of the time, many pirate clans operated as limited democracies, demanding the right to elect and replace their leaders?

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Selected Jolly Roger



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