Capt. Malcolm Reynolds: You know anything that's worth anything's really right here in this cargo bay. So you take a look around, decide what you think is fair.Our heroes are adrift and need of rescue. Maybe they are in a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean. Maybe they are in an escape pod or a damaged starship floating in the vastness of space. Maybe their airplane or spaceship crashed in a desert, or a jungle, or on an uncharted island or planet. They need rescue. And rescue arrives! Or so it seems. Actually, the first people to show up are more interested in stealing their stuff and looting their bodies than they are in actually rescuing anyone. Survivors just jeopardize the salvage value of whatever bits of Phlebotinum are left over. Our heroes either have to fight them, or escape from them, or turn the tables and steal their ship instead. Very much a part of many Robinsonade plots. Probably the reason is that the "surviving with ingenuity on a desert island" part of the story eventually gets boring, and to have a dramatic climax before the final rescuing there is nothing better than to throw in a fight with Pirates for no other reason than the Rule of Cool. See also Space Pirates and Bedouin Rescue Service.
Other captain: Already have. (gutshots Mal) We're taking your ship.
Other captain: Already have. (gutshots Mal) We're taking your ship.
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Anime & Manga
- Interesting variation in One Piece. When the Log Pose of the Straw Hat Pirates points at the sky, they find themselves lost, not knowing how to sail up to the sky. Suddenly a group of literal salvage pirates appears, trying to salvage a ship that fell down from the sky. This ship might also contain clues to how to sail to the sky, so the Straw Hats make themselves the enemies of the salvaging pirates (for a while). Some unexpected circumstances chase the salvagers away, but Nico Robin manages to steal an Eternal Pose showing the way to Jaya Island, where they learn the way to the sky.
- The Transformers (IDW) features some who attempt to use Rodimus and the Autobot Matrix of Leadership as a battery to power their ship. While the pirates offer the young Autobot a lift offworld, conflict arises when they reveal that they are not sure if Rodimus will survive the process. He winds up escaping and rallies some other castaways to help steal the ship stranding the captain. Ironically, Rodimus winds up using himself as a battery anyway, though he does survive the process.
- Friday the 13th: Jason vs. Jason X opens with bunch of people finding the wreckage of the spaceship Grendel drifting in space, and boarding it in search of "booty". They end up as the first victims in the comic, as Jason Voorhees returns back to life just after their arrival.
- Diary of the Dead has soldiers encounter the main characters at one part. They order them to turn off their camera (at gunpoint no less) and when it turns back on, the soldiers are driving away with all their provisions after terrorizing them for god only knows how long.
- Air America: When the pilots played by Mel Gibson and Robert Downey Jr. crash-land on an abandoned air strip in the middle of the jungle, rescue is swift in coming. Except that said "rescue" simply claims their cargo (which turned out to contain smuggled heroin) and leaves them to their fate.
- Averted: In the opening scenes of Aliens, a deep-space salvage crew is disappointed to find Ripley still alive in stasis, because "there goes our salvage, boys". However, they resist the temptation to just kill her and salvage the shuttle anyways. Most likely because their salvaging operation was a legit business, and murder wasn't even on the table.
- The Flight of the Phoenix (2004) features a fight between the crew of the downed aircraft and an appropriate group of hostile local scavengers.
- In the movie version of The Land That Time Forgot, the survivors of a passenger liner torpedoed by a first-world-war German sub drift for a while in a lifeboat... until they come across the sub that sank them in a fog, and pre-emptively turn the tables on the sub's crew, taking it over. (In the novel, the survivors are rescued by a British tugboat. When the tug is attacked by the same sub, the survivors and the tug's crew stage a counter boarding operation and take it over.)
- The Harrison Ford/Anne Heche movie Six Days Seven Nights.
- When R2-D2 and C-3PO crash-land on Tatooine in the original Star Wars movie, they are "rescued" by Jawas that sell them to Luke.
- The Disney live-action movie version of Swiss Family Robinson features pirates:
- The same pirates who forced the ship onto the rocks in the first place (stranding the titular family on the island) come back, and have to be scared off by the ingenious use of a quarantine flag.
- Later, these pirates must be fought to free a female captive, if only to provide a Love Interest for the two oldest sons to bicker over.
- In the comedy Top Secret!, Nigel was shipwrecked on a desert island. One day while fishing he was picked up by a passing freighter and gang raped by the male crew, but it turned out that he liked it.
- In The Cars That Ate Paris, the townsfolk make a living by causing car accidents and then scavenging the parts from the wrecks.
- Older Than Radio: In the original Robinson Crusoe, the first European ship to arrive to the island (eventually rescuing Robinson) is one where the crew has mutinied, and they are described as "pirates" in the Long Title of the novel.
- In two Robinson-esque novels by Jules Verne, The Mysterious Island and Two Years Vacation, again the first ships to arrive to the islands are pirate ships.
- In the novel This Perfect Day by Ira Levin, Chip and Lilac find an "abandoned" boat and use it to try to escape for an island outside of the control of the supercomputer that rules the world. The first ship from the island they come across claims to be a service to rescue new "immigrants" from the mainland, but actually, the guy pulls a gun on them, steals their ship, and dumps them overboard into the sea to drown. They're rescued a few minutes later by the real immigrant rescue boat, however.
- In Snow Crash, Hiro and the Mafia goons get a boat sunk out from under them by an ex-Soviet missile submarine, and have to turn the tables on a shipload of pirates that comes to steal their liferaft and kidnap them and sell them into slavery.
- The first installment of Piers Anthony's Bio of a Space Tyrant revolves around this happening again and again to the refugee ship carrying hero Hope Hubris and his ever-dwindling family.
- Used no less than three times in Michael Reaves' The Shattered World, every time a main character goes adrift in the Void between fragments.
- When Beorn falls into the Void naked, he is menaced by a winged vampire; he lures it in, claiming to prefer a quick death, then gets it in a stranglehold and forces it to fly him to land.
- When Beorn and Amber are struggling to cross the sea on a tiring gryphon, their steed is netted by a shipload of dragon-hunters, who demand the gryphon and Beorn's manual labor if they're to carry the pair to safety, not dump them overboard.
- Finally, flashbacks reveal that when Amber and her husband Tahrynyar are cast up on Darkhaven in a storm, Pandrogas the sorcerer saves them both, but ends up stealing Tahrynyar's one remaining possession of value: Amber herself, with whom the sorcerer has an affair.
- Used again in the sequel, The Burning Realm. When Mirrim the werewolf is left stranded alone on Stonebrow's vacated isle, the first others to arrive are pirates, whom she fools into thinking she's the resident sorceress. When an assassin is trapped in a cavern on the rim of a fragment, the being that "rescues" her is a cacodaemon, which carries her off to slavery. Reaves sure likes this trope.
- A version of this from The Thrawn Trilogy. Luke messed up his X-Wing's systems while escaping a Tractor Beam and is stranded light-years from anything, unable to contact anyone. Within a few hours Talon Karrde, head of a smuggling/intelligence organization, arrives on the scene claiming coincidence, and offers not only to take Luke but also his ship, for a fee. Luke is wary, thinking of exactly this trope, but if he refuses he'll just be either blasted or left to hang in the void again. Soon, though, he finds that they found him using a Force-Sensitive woman who hates him, and Grand Admiral Thrawn has put out word that he's stranded in the area and could be worth something. Normally Karrde, being both a businessman and pretty decent, would be happy to save random drifters with or without a fee, but Luke complicates a lot of things, and he considers handing him over to Thrawn. He doesn't.
- A non-illegal version is in Isaac Asimov's story The Martian Way. Its a professional job where people salvage space junk and scraps of metal, rock, etc. and sell them later. They do consider stealing water, but only because a politican called Hilder limits water trade, (water is scarce on Mars.)
- Played with in KJ Parker's Evil for Evil. Instead of being in a vehicle or something, the character wakes up in a field after being injured in a battle. The Salvage Pirates show up to collect his gear and end up taking him, too, thinking they can ransom him to the enemy. He eventually escapes after becoming ultra paranoid that they'll do just that.
- When the father in Swiss Family Robinson first sees the English ship in the bay, far away from the normal ship lanes, at first he fears that these are pirates who will threaten his family and guest rather then reuniting them with the outside world.
- In ''We Didn't Mean To Go To Sea'' by Arthur Ransome the "Longshore Sharks" are described. Their M.O. was to locate stranded vessels, offer a friendly tow, and then claim a third of the value of the ship on the grounds that they had "salvaged" it.
- The Ship Who Won, by Anne McCaffrey and Jody Lynn Nye, and The Ship Errant, by Jody Lynn Nye solo: The brainship Carialle once suffered a fuel tank explosion as the result of sabotage. As she drifted in space, she detected movement on her outer hull, but was unable to generate a signal to get the attention of whoever it was. Later rescued, repaired and returned to service, Carialle re-encounters the salvagers after a considerable period of time. The younger members of the group are profoundly shocked and apologetic; they hadn't realized that the ship they had salvaged parts from was a brainship. Their leader, however, certainly knew - he stole Carialle's ID plate from the wall of the control room. He winds up going to prison for a long, long time. Carialle, however, manages to help the younger crewmembers get away, since they helped her resolve the current crisis.
- The plot of Jamaica Inn follows a group of murderous wreckers who run ships aground, kill the sailors and steal the loot.
- In the Kate Shugak short story "Wreck Rights", Kate and Jim investigate a group of modern day 'wreckers', who cause truck crashes on a steep mountain and then loot the goods being transported out of the wrecked trucks. Kate even references Jamaica Inn by name.
- The protagonists in "Beachworld" from Stephen King's Skeleton Crew are salvage pirates, although they are non-villainous examples. They try to do the right thing by rescuing the survivor of the crashed ship that they've come to salvage only to find that the planet's sand is a monstrous Genius Loci out to kill them.
- The Crowner John Mysteries are set in Devon and Cornwall, where the coastal villages have a tradition of salvaging whatever they can from shipwrecks. As any salvage legally belongs to the Crown, many of the villages will fail to declare the shipwreck to the proper authority (the Coroner), and hide any signs of the wreck. In some extreme cases, they will murder any survivors of the wreck so there is no one to report what happened.
Live Action TV
- In "Out of Gas", a deep-space salvage crew decides they'd rather steal Serenity and kill its crew than make a trade for the one spare part needed to get the ship working again.
- In a couple of other episodes, the crew of Serenity themselves are accused of trying to pull a similar trick, such as in "Bushwhacked". They're accused of doing the original damage and pretending to be salvaging.
- Happens again in "Our Mrs. Reynolds", though bordering on Space Pirates, as they deliberately engineered a deathtrap in order to claim the then-derelict ship.
- In the first-season finale of Lost, the raft the survivors built to escape from the island is met by a ship crewed by The Others, who kidnap Walt and try to kill the rest of the raft escapees.
- The first episode of the TV series Crusoe features the titular castaway being threatened by pirates/escaped convicts, as well as the corrupt Spanish jailers who are after them.
- The Prisoner episode "Many Happy Returns". Number 6 escapes the Village on a raft and encounters a fishing boat whose crew steals his belongings. He ends up fighting them and eventually captures them.
- Star Trek: Enterprise had an episode where the Xindi brutally attack and leave the Enterprise without warp travel, making their mission hopeless. Subverted here because fortunately for them a warp ship from an explorer minor race comes by. They try to negotiate a trade for engine parts, but when the other ship's refuse, they steal engine parts by force, so it's the minor race against what should be the good guys. Even though they try to lessen the blow by giving them supplies so they can get back home, the aliens tell them they're still assholes.
- Star Trek: Voyager
- Voyager gets caught in a Negative Space Wedgie that has dozens of ships trapped inside it, which raid each other for supplies and parts to keep running. This episode was later the basis for the videogame Star Trek: Elite Force.
- In "Extreme Risk", the conflict is over the Malon attempting to salvage Voyager's multi-spatial probe from a gas giant despite their objections.
- In " Rise", an alien race is sending asteroids to impact a planetary colony, so they can claim the planet for themselves after everyone has been evacuated.
- Georgi LaForge ran into a crew of Pakled pirates once in Star Trek: The Next Generation. ("We are far from home.")
- Andromeda: The crew of the Eureka Maru were originally planning to do this to the Andromeda Ascendant. Well, technically they weren't expecting anyone to still be alive after three centuries orbiting a black hole but their employer still brought along a few mercs on ice. Instead, the captain and the ship's AI were still there, and he actually recruited most of them into his crusade to restore the Commonwealth.
- In Farscape John became stranded in the Leviathan burial space aboard an elderly Leviathan without the fuel to reach any planet. The Leviathan is eventually boarded by salvagers looking to harvest valuable nerve tissue and they try to kill John so he can't reveal the location.
- The Coroner: "Capsized" involves a shipwreck that deposits multiple cargo containers on the coast. The locals start looting the containers, and Jane gets involved when one of the looters turns up dead in one of the containers.
- In "The Two Sisters" (Child Ballad 10) the elder sister pushes the younger sister into the river (or sea) to drown her, and she sinks and swims until reaching a mill pond. (Yes, even when thrown in the sea.) In some variants, she is still alive at this point and offers a gold chain to the miller to rescue her. The miller takes the chain and pushes her back to drown.
- Space Quest III: The Pirates of Pestulon begins with Roger Wilco's escape pod picked up by a salvage ship helmed by a robot; the robot is more interested in picking up space garbage than picking off Roger, but he'll do so if you get his attention. The rats present a more direct threat, stealing Roger's stuff and beating the crap out of him if he tries to make off with their loot.
- "Ninja salvaging" is a viable (if somewhat short) career path in EVE Online. The salvager won't even be marked as an outlaw if he only dismantles the wrecks for parts and leaves the cargo alone. Also, people stuck in wormhole systems can occasionally find someone to point them to an exit wormhole for a price.
- In Oolite, picking up abandoned cargo and other space debris is perfectly legal, regardless of how they got there in the first place. Bounty hunting can become essentially legitimized piracy, since the player can scoop the cargo they leave behind and sell it the same way the pirates planned on exploiting their would-be victims. One especially underhanded (though still perfectly legal) method involves letting the pirates splash their targets, then swooping down on them and picking up both sides' derelict cargo.
- And in the original Elite, selling the occupants as slaves was actually the only way to get rid of an Escape Pod after you scooped it up. The remake addresses this by handing you a semi-random reward either from the distressed spacer's insurance provider or the police, depending whether or not they were wanted for anything, and if you happen to scoop up a pod containing contraband you can turn it over to the police for a token fee. Releasing a slave in this manner can sometimes earn you a very large thank-you cheque from their next-of-kin.
- After wandering aimlessly around the ruins looking for help at the beginning of Advance Wars: Days of Ruin, Will finally manages to hail someone on the radio. Unfortunately, the person on the end is a rogue sergeant who orders his men to steal Will's weapons and supplies, and to make sure they kill him while they're at it.
- FTL: Faster Than Light: If you run out of fuel and are drifting in space (with or without you distress beacon) there is a chance you 'rescuers' will be more interested in helping themselves to your ship.
- Associated Space notably averts this trope when Fatebane and David Urquart crash-land on the Free Realm of Sarmatia, and are promptly surrounded by fierce-looking horse-warrior nomads...who promptly get them medical attention and help them on their way.
- In Sluggy Freelance, pretty much anyone lost in Timeless Space is guaranteed to be "rescued" by space pirates.