See Transnational crime .

The first precise attempt to codify piracy was in 1958 when the Convention on the High Seas was adopted in order to clarify the legal status of pirates and the competence to arrest pirates. These articles in the Convention on the High Seas have been incorporated into the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) and have today become the definition of piracy under international law. That is, piracy according to the UNCLOS consists of all illegal acts of violence, detention, or any acts of plundering, committed for private ends on the High Seas or areas not under national jurisdiction.

Reference works

Haywood, R. and Spivak, R. , Maritime Piracy, 2012


Romi-Levin, R., Piracy at Sea : Bibliography, 2003

Periodicals and Serial Publications

Books and Articles

Alexander, Y. (ed.), Terror on the High Seas : From Piracy to Strategic Challenge, Santa Barbara, CA, etc. : Praeger Security International, 2009
Boon, K.E. (ed.), Terrorism : Documents of International and Local Control: Piracy and International Maritime Security, New York, NY, etc. : Oxford University Press, 2011
Guilfoyle, D., Shipping Interdiction and the Law of the Sea, Cambridge, etc. : Cambridge University Press, 2009
Heller-Roazen, D., The Enemy of All : Piracy and the Law of Nations, New York, NY : Zone Books, 2009
Kempe, M., Fluch der Weltmeere : Piraterie, Vülkerrecht und internationale Beziehungen 1500-1900, Frankfurt am Main, etc. : Campus Verlag, 2010
Lehr, P. (ed.), Violence at Sea : Piracy in the Age of Global Terrorism, New York, NY, etc. : Routledge, 2007
Marley, D., Modern Piracy : a Reference Handbook, Santa Barbara, CA, etc. : ABC-CLIO, 2011
Murphy, M.N., Small Boats, Weak States, Dirty Money : Piracy and Maritime Terrorism in the Modern World, London : Hurst, 2009
Payne, J.C., Piracy Today : Fighting Villainy on the High Seas, Dobbs Ferry, NY : Sheridan House, 2010
Petrig, A.. (ed.), Sea Piracy Law : Selected National Legal Frameworks and Regional Legislative Approaches = Droit de la piraterie maritime : cadres juridiques nationaux et approches legislatives regionales, Berlin : Duncker & Humblot, 2010
Young, A.J., Contemporary Maritime Piracy in Southeast Asia : History, Causes and Remedies, Singapore, etc. : Institute of Southeast Asian studies (ISEAS), etc., 2007


Arnauld, A. von, “Die moderne Piraterie und das Vülkerrecht”, in: 47 Archiv des Vülkerrechts (2009) 4, pp. 454-480
Bento, L., “Towards an International Law of Piracy Sui Generis : How the Dual Nature of Maritime Piracy Enables Piracy to Flourish”, in: 29 Berkeley Journal of International Law (2011) 2, pp. 399-455
Campbell, P., “A Modern History of the International Legal Definition of Piracy”, in: Piracy and Maritime Crime : Historical and Modern Case Studies, 2010, pp. 19-32
MacDorman, T.L., “Maritime Terrorism and the International Law of Boarding of Vessels at Sea : a Brief Assessment of the New Developments”, in: The Oceans in the Nuclear Age : Legacies and Risks, 2010, pp. 239-264
Treves, T., “Piracy, Law of the Sea, and Use of Force : Developments off the Coast of Somalia”, in: 20 European Journal of International Law (2009) 2, pp. 399-414


Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law , Piracy, by Ivan Shearer


United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) of 10 December 1982, Part VII: High Seas, Article 101


Piracy: See also

More guides on International Criminal Law

International Criminal Law
Transnational crime

More guides on Transnational Crime

Human Trafficking



See Also

References and Further Reading

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Introduction to Piracy

Piracy, in international law, 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 (see Privateer) 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. See International Law.

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 (see Barbary Coast; Corsair). The buccaneers (see Buccaneer) were pirates who, during the 16th and 17th centuries, preyed mainly on Spanish commerce with the Spanish American colonies. 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 (see Slavery). 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. See also Smuggling.” (1)


Notes and References

Guide to Piracy

Law is our Passion

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  • Description: See Transnational crime . The first precise attempt to codify piracy was in 1958 when the Convention on the High Seas was [...]

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