What is a "Pirate"?

The Legal Definition of a Pirate:

"Piracy, in international law, is the crime of robbery, or other act of violence for private ends, on the high seas or in the air above the seas, committed by the captain or crew of a ship or aircraft outside the normal jurisdiction of any nation, and without authority from any government. The persons who engage in acts of piracy are called "pirates". International treaties and national legislation have sometimes applied the term "piracy" to attacks on the high seas authorized by a government, in violation of international law; to actions by insurgents acting for political purposes; or to violent acts on board a vessel under control of its officers."


Such acts, however, are not regarded as piracy under the law of nations. Piracy is distinguished from "privateering" in that the latter is authorized by a belligerent in time of war; privateering was legally abolished by the Declaration of Paris of 1856, but the United States and certain other nations did not assent to the declaration.

Piracy is recognized as an offense against the law of nations. It is a crime not against any particular state, but against all humanity. The crime may be punished in the competent tribunal of any country in which the offender may be found, or carried, although the crime may have been committed on board a foreign vessel on the high seas. The essence of piracy is that the pirate has no valid commission from a sovereign state, or from an insurgent or belligerent government engaged in hostilities with a particular state. Pirates are regarded as common enemies of all people. In that nations have an equal interest in their apprehension and punishment, pirates may be lawfully captured on the high seas by the armed vessels of any state and brought within its territorial jurisdiction for trial in its tribunals.

Piracy is of ancient origin. The Phoenicians often combined piracy with more legitimate seafaring enterprise. From the 9th through the 11th century the Vikings terrorized western European coasts and waters. The Hanseatic League, formed in the 13th century, was created partially to provide mutual defense against northern pirates roaming the North and Baltic seas. Muslim rovers, meanwhile, scourged the Mediterranean Sea, commingling naval war on a large scale with thievery and the abduction of slaves. In the 17th century the English Channel swarmed with Algerian pirates, operating out of northern Africa; Algiers continued to be a piratical stronghold until well into the 19th century. Piracy waned with the development of the steam engine and the growth of the British and American navies in the latter part of the 18th and early 19th centuries.

In municipal law, the term piracy has been extended to cover crimes other than those defined above, such as slave trading. An independent state has the power to regulate its own criminal code, and it may declare offenses to be piracy that are not so regarded by international law. These municipal laws can have binding force only in the jurisdiction creating them. Although similar regulations may be adopted by other states, in the absence of special agreement between two states, the officers of one may not arrest or punish subjects of the other for offenses committed beyond its jurisdiction.


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