Pirates, Piracy and the Law

As piracy is a crime their must be in existence specific laws on the subject. Like all criminal laws the laws regarding piracy serve to define what actions or combination of action or omissions would constitute piracy. Like all laws the laws relating to piracy have a source. The Source for laws includes custom, statue and treaties. The law also provides for finality. Laws sometimes have exceptions the exception to the general law om piracy is privateering. Finally the law of piracy provides procedures for the prosecutes pirates and for the alleged pirate to defend against those charges.

Regarding the law defining piracy; Their are many laws on piracy however it is possible assemble a definition of piracy. An individual is guilty of piracy if he disposes and “carries away” or attempts to dispossess and carry away another’s vessel its cargo or passengers property on this said vessel; or be the commander or member of crew of a ship used as platform for the completed or attempted act of piracy. All the aforementioned conduct will unless the crew conducting the piratical act is acting under and according to a letter of marque or otherwise functioning as a state apparatus. Furthermore for one to be guilty of piracy the piratical act must take place in international waters which exists at least 3 miles from the coast of the mainland. The law banning piracy would not limit it self to people engaging in traditional acts of piracy; the law also classifies people knowingly helping or involving themselves with pirates as pirates themselves. The type of help or involvement classified as piracy include conspiring with the pirates, financing the pirates, procuring items to be used by pirates, holding stolen goods for them, advising them, directing from shore giving them equipment or helping them recruit etc.

Of course no discussion of piracy would be complete without discussing the legal form of piracy known as privateering. Privateering involved the state granting private merchant mariner’s licenses know as letters of marque legally entitling the licensed mariner to rob ships of an enemies and pirates. By operating under and within the scope of the letter marque an act which would nominally be classified as piracy would not be legally definable as piracy. A liscensed privateer was immune from a charge of piracy not only from the country who issued the license but from all other nations including the nation whose shipping was attacked by the privateer. Customary international law of the time demanded that other nations give a letter of marque full faith and credit and not consider its holder a pirate. Customary international law defined privateers as legal members of his countries service engaging in a legal military operation. As a member of his countries service he was immune from criminal charges for killing done in pursuit of privateering, and if captured had to be granted prisoner of war status. Not with standing its legal status, was very much like piracy. The privateers where motivated by profit. After paying the State a share of the prize they could keep the rest.