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Navy Historian Compares Pirates to Privateers

September 1, 2009
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I am amazed that an educated person would make this analogy that is blatantly incorrect. From Navy News:

Pirates are often in the news for their criminal activities at sea, but their antics are rooted in history.

Pirates have been around since man first took to the high seas, and a type of sea raider known as a privateer emerged between the 15th and 19th centuries.

Michael Crawford, a senior Navy historian, traced the rise of privateering and touched on strategies to combat modern pirates during an Aug. 24 “DoDLive” bloggers roundtable.

“A privateer is a private man of war who has a license from his sovereign government to attack the ships belonging to citizens of a country with which he is at war,” Crawford said. “If he does capture an enemy ship, he has to go through all the legal requirements; he has to bring the ship into port and have it tried in an admiralty court.”

I am not sure if it is the Armed Forces Press Reporter making the connection between the two or if this was the Navy historian, but it is factually incorrect. According to the International Maritime Bureau piracy is “an act of boarding or attempting to board any ship with the intent to commit theft or any other crime and with the attempt to or capability to use force in the furtherance of that act.” As for Privateers, as the historian stated it is a ship authorized by an established government, who could issue Letters of Marque for sea captains in wartime (as is written in the US Constitution).

Of course, many privateers have turned to piracy when they found it profitable enough. Henry Morgan comes to mind. But more often the buccaneers were just bloodthirsty criminals, on the order of Blackbeard who once held the entire city of Charleston SC up for ransom!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Burleson permalink*
    September 3, 2009 6:56 am

    Matt, you may be right but I didn’t see any attempt at separating the two within the article itself. As you say it could have been the reporter trying to make “morale equivalency” between the two obviously different practices.

  2. Matt permalink
    September 2, 2009 10:50 pm

    The points that Mr. Crawford mentions are the key differences between pirates and privateers.

    Perhaps he was trying to contrast the two, but the subtleties were lost on Navy News.

  3. Mike Burleson permalink*
    September 2, 2009 5:23 am

    I agree. This makes no sense. Seems he was taken out of context.

  4. Adeodatus permalink
    September 1, 2009 10:23 pm

    I’ve dealt with Michael Crawford many times. Good historian. I’d be surprised if he meant this the was it was interpreted. I’d like to see what the whole interview said for context.

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