Pirate Questions

  1. What happens if you’re in a small private boat, out in the middle of the ocean, and are set upon by pirates. They rob you and rough you up but nobody gets seriously hurt. What can you do? Is there a police force or court that will capture and prosecute pirates? My guess is that you’re on your own once you are in international waters and there’s not much anybody can do for you.

  2. How likely are you to be bothered by pirates in the open ocean? People seem to sail around the world all the time and you rarely hear about problems like these.

  3. Do most private ocean going boats carry firearms to ward off pirates? Would trying to defend yourself be a good idea?

I’m not a sailor, but most articles I’ve read recommend that ocean-going boats carry weapons on board. Legally speaking, pirates in international waters can be captured by any nation that cares to go out and stop them. I have no idea how often anyone does this, however, and like you I suspect the answer is “very rarely.”

Perhaps we would pay them off tp leave us alone like like we did 1784.


More likely, if we could find them we would kick thier ass, like from 1801 to 1815.

from same cite:

When the U.S. became a separate country it had little Navy to protect its merchant ships, so in 1784, Congress appropriated $80,000 as tribute, or bribe, to the Barbary states. But continued attacks prompted the building of the United States Navy, including one of America’s most famous ships, the USS Constitution, leading to a series of wars along the North African coast, starting in 1801. It was not until 1815 that naval victories ended tribute payments by the U.S., although some European nations continued annual payments until the 1830s.

Replace pirate with terrorist and ask yourself,WWGWD?

Quick search on Google News:

Aid ship seized off Somalia

Concern about growing piracy in SE Asia

More problems off Somalia

List of recent attacks

I spend most of my life at sea, and no one in their right minds carries guns. The International Maritime Organization agrees with me


45 The carrying and use of firearms for personal protection or protection of a ship is strongly discouraged.

46 Carriage of arms on board ship may encourage attackers to carry firearms thereby escalating an already dangerous situation, and any firearms on board may themselves become an attractive target for an attacker. The use of firearms requires special training and aptitudes and the risk of accidents with firearms carried on board ship is great. In some jurisdictions, killing a national may have unforeseen consequences even for a person who believes he has acted in self defence.

It happens a lot more than you think. Try searching the NGA Anti-Shipping Activity Messages for posted notices. Without counting, there seems to be at least three dozen reported incidents this year alone.

For a full list of reported piracy, the IMO issues monthly bulletins.

Reading the latest reports from this link, it looks like 95%+ of the incidents happened in the Indian Ocean or the South China Sea.

The International Maritime Organization has their head up their ass. What pirate will NOT already be armed to the teeth? What are they going to use to takeover your boat, their deadly wit and sharp tongues?

Pirates operates usually in narrow straits with a lot of traffic, like the straits of Mallaca mentionned in the articles listed. This way, they’ve a lot of potential prey and can come back “home” quickly.

As a result, attacks don’t take place in open waters. You’re unlikely to find them in the middle of the Atlantic.

In any case, you aren’t on your own, since international treaties gives all countries juridiction for such acts of piracy. As a result, you could for instance contact any military vessel from any nation that happens to be present in the area. In theory, at least. I don’t know how this would work out in practice.

If think you got it wrong. They mention the risk of “escalating an already dangerous situation”. IOW, they could just kill everybody in case you would try to resist with a weapon, instead of simply robbing you. That would be especially true if they’re, as you state, “armed to the teeth”.

Yeah, but eventually you’ve got Aquaman, so once it escalates to that point, what are the pirates going to do?

Black Manta.

Agreed. Use diplomacy but have something to back it up with. Your’e pretty much alone out there.

I am no expert on the ins and outs of the law of the sea, but I do have a fair grounding in international law, so I can give some broad strokes.

The Constitution gives Congress the authority to define crimes of piracy and the laws of the sea. Other nations similarly have enacted laws, and over time, a consensus on how the seas are to be governed has evolved, both through treaties and through cumstomary international law. Customary international law is basically a general agreement on certain principles based upon the resolution of past disputes, as opposed to formal, written treaties. It’s sort of like case law for diplomacy.

Customary international law on piracy and various other issues created a concept of the premptory norm, or a general rule that is binding upon nations, and that nations may not opt out of, even in exercise of their sovereignty. In other words, a state can’t simply choose to ignore these types of rules. The prohibition on piracy is one example of a premptory norm: just because a crime occurs outside a state’s territory, states are still bound to fight, condemn, and oppose such actions. (Other acts that fall under a premptory norm are aggressive war, slavery, genocide, etc – events that are basically considered odious to humanity).

With states bound to take such an approach toward piracy, there’s no legal loophole by which pirates, if caught, could lawfully escape prosecution. Not to be overly dramatic, the crime of piracy is more or less placed on the same level as a crime against humanity. However, I cannot say what obligations are affirmatively placed on states to track down and capture pirates, such as whether navies are compelled by international law to give chase to suspected pirates.

Read the examples given. The main intention is often kidnap, in which case you’re far better off giving yourself up quietly than going down in a blaze of fire.

You can report it to the nearest coastal state, or to your own flag state. Slim chance anything will come out of it, but you never know. Piracy is a crime - even on the high seas and all coastal states are charged with supressing piracy. From the Law of the Sea:
"Piracy consists of any of the following acts:
(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 or aircraft;
© any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described in subparagraph (a) or (b).


A vessel engaged in piracy will likely be unflagged - or “stateless”, so a coastal state can pretty much enforce their own laws on them as they wish. If they claim a nationality, they’ll likely be handed over to that state for prosecution.

Very unlikely in most places. Right now the most dangerous spots are the Malacca Strait, South China Sea and the West coast of Africa. The East side of Northern Africa is starting to heat up a little more. It’s rare in the Caribbean, but by no means unheard of. Without a doubt, the waters near the Malacca Strait are the most dangerous to all vessels - large or small.

In my experience, and I’ve boarded hundreds (to maybe over a thousand) boats over the years, yes most (US) private vessels are armed. Foreign yachts - not that I’ve encountered. Other parts of the world? I don’t know. I’ll reserve my opinion on the value of weapons on boats for another forum. (more below)

Piracy is more common today than ever before. For an excellent in-depth look at modern piracy, read Dangerous Waters, Modern Piracy and terror on the High Seas. (http://www.modernpiracy.com/home.htm)

According to the book, most pirates are armed with only knives or machetes and clubbed weapons. While guns are becoming more common with pirates, the majority of reported cases don’t involve firearms. IIRC, the book mentions that only two flags of vessels don’t get harassed by pirates when transiting the Malacca Strait: Israeli and Russian ships. The reason is that these vessels are rumored to be armed at all times. No other flag routinely arms their merchant vessels. Make of that what you will.

Right now I inspect foreign flag ships for the US, and can tell you that much of the information in that book is accurate. I’ve spoken to dozens of merchant sailors who have been the victims of piracy. I even spent 4 weeks at school with a CG officer who was pirated while a US Merchant Marine in the S. China sea. It’s a very real threat to merchant shipping in certain parts of the world.

I should amend that to “…victims of piracy or attempted piracy”. I’ve only spoken to a handful of actual victims. Most of the time the sailors fended off pirate approaches with lights, hoses and horns. (SOP for merchant shipping)

I don’t have the cites, nor do I remember enough specifically to make a Google search seem likely to get me anything, but I believe there was at least one case of a pirated Austrailian tanker that was found to be in port in China.

What I read at the time was that the ship was overtaken by a speedboat at night, boarded before anyone knew they were there. The on watch crewmembers were rounded up by pirates armed with automatic weapons, and then the ship was sailed to a one of the southern Chinese harbors, where it had been in the process of being repainted as another vessel when someone noticed that the ship hadn’t made it’s originally scheduled port. (Which isn’t as hard to believe as it might seem: If one is several hundred miles from a search area for a missing ship, who’s going to check all vessels in a busy port against for that ship?) Anyways, before the ship was successfully camoflauged as some other vessel - the Austrailian gov’t prodded the Chinese about the crew, ship and cargo.

As of the time of the article I’d read, the Aussies got the crew back.

The crew were surprised and grateful to have survived to be repatriated - apparantly they were afraid that ‘dead men tell no tales’ would be the watchwords of the pirates. Among other things, papers the ‘pirates’ had made it pretty clear that at least one person in the home office of the corporation owning the ship had been involved in the piracy, as well as several high government officials in China, as well.

I think that the risks associated with piracy are going to depend a lot upon what the goals of the pirates in question. Thus smaller vessels, with either relatively large passenger lists, or privately owned, seem to be more at risk for an attack seeking to acquire a ransom - cooperation would seem to be the best strategy for survival. Larger vessels, however, seem to be targeted as commodities, themselves, as well as their cargoes, with the crews being incidentals. In that case, I’d think that the crews of said larger vessels would prefer to try to fight back against a piracy attempt.

OTOH - there are a number of man portable weapons that can do sigifigant, but not necessarily fatal, damage to large vessel. And fatal damage for a civilian ship is easy to arrange: a molotov cocktail would probably be enough to sink most civilian ships - if the pirates had the means to harass the crew to keep it from effectively fighting the fire. Certainly one of the main differences in crew size between naval and civilian vessels is that naval vessels go for redundancy to be able to fight an enemy and damage at the same time. I don’t know what the best strategy would be, really - the advice of the IMO would gall me, but I can’t say it’s assbackwards, either.

If they were still in the mothball fleet, I’d suggest selling the PHM class ships to the nations bordering the Malacca Strait. Fast, lightly armed, and designed for coastal warfare, it would seem to be their ideal environment. Alas, they’ve been scrapped.

A big part of the piracy problem along the Malacca Strait is the nation that borders it: Indonesia. It has been alleged time and time again that factions of the Indonesian Navy are conducting pirate raids on merchant shipping. Add in the organized crime rings working with corrupt officials in the Indonesian government and the pirates have little to worry about with respect to enforcement. The Malaysians have an active anti-piracy task-force but can do little to supress the wave of violence when the pirates simply hide in Indonesian waters.