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Ruthless Modern Pirates

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What ARRRRRRRRRR they, hijackers?

"Those guys were pirates? Admit it, you chased much cooler pirates when you were on our team."
Hank Venture, The Venture Bros.

Truth in Television: Pirates still roam the waters today (mostly in regions of high political instability or weak military resolve to stop them, such as Somalia, West Africa, and the Straits of Malacca). This trope is about them.

Unlike their conventional counterparts, there is nothing romantic about these modern-day pirates. They tend to be completely ruthless, cold-blooded killers, devoid of honor and willing to stoop to any crime: sociopaths on the high seas. Bonus points if characters express disappointment at these pirates' failure to shiver timbers. Yet, this characterization of being honorless, psychopathic killers is exactly how pirates were viewed during the Golden Age of Piracy. Many of them lived up (or down) to this reputation (caveat: Many golden-age pirates were defectors from British naval press-gangs, making them essentially escaped slaves and thus occasionally sympathetic in colonial and even British literature). Perhaps another four hundred years from now, Somalian pirates will be viewed as romantic rogues.


Malaysian and Indonesian pirates live up to their reputation in creative ways that would make British pirates of yore proud. Instead of walking the plank, for instance, they like to leave crewmembers stranded in shallow water coral reefs 50 miles off the coast, where they have to stand on tip-toes waiting for a passing ship. This is to ensure you don't call for help while the ship is still in the vicinity — and that is if they don't execute everyone on board. The Somalis, on the other hand, make millions on ransom alone. In fact, ransom is the main point for them; collecting a ransom is quicker, easier, and usually safer than stealing property of similar value and holding onto it long enough to find a buyer.

You won't find modern pirates sailing the seven seas in visually impressive warships. That's because the entire venture cannot work without at least some decent degree of stealth from worldwide law enforcement. The use of vessels analogous to Blackbeard's Queen Anne's Revenge or Bartholomew "Black Bart" Roberts' Royal Fortune would be easily visible by satellite imagery, and even if a modern pirate could take control of a hyper-fast-and-powerful ship on the level of a US Navy destroyer, most every nation in the world would almost certainly launch immediate near-limitless-resource missions to hunt down and destroy it. What's more, operating a modern warship requires resources far beyond what it took to run an effective pirate ship in the 18th century. In other words, piracy, like any other form of criminal enterprise, was forced to change with the times, or die.


Perhaps the closest thing they have to a Cool Ship are a few tankers and cargo ships which are larger than anything that their earlier counterparts could ever get their hands on, mostly used as mother ships.

Ruthless Modern Pirates may also be Submarine Pirates. See also Sky Pirates and Space Pirates for specific types of modern-day/future pirates that may still retain their romanticism. For modern day pirates who still dress and act as if were the Golden Age of Piracy, see A Pirate 400 Years Too Late.

Related to Ruthless Foreign Gangsters. Not related to Digital Piracy Is Evil.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The main characters of Black Lagoon are shown hijacking a ship after Rock first joins them. Since the group's normal vessel is a torpedo boat, one assumes they engage in piracy when their "delivery" business is poor.
    • The characters are first seen robbing and kidnapping Rock. They were hired specifically to steal a disk by Hotel Moscow. Later, they were hired by someone else to hijack the ship. Basically, they commit whatever crimes they are hired to do (smuggling drugs, et cetera.) Luak and his men were also pirates before getting wiped out by Revy.
  • Off of Somalia, a well equipped band of pirates with two boats and a helicopter tries to attack Koko Hekmatyar's ship in Jormungand. Unfortunately for them, she's an arms dealer, and her team of bodyguards puts her merchandise to good use.
  • Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet: Subverted. What's more dangerous than a band of slaver pirates on a post-apocalypse sea planet? A neo-Nazi piloting a flying mech that has been improved over the course of a forever war to utterly and ruthlessly murder everything around it. And then dumped on a backwater planet, all systems intact. The main character ends up becoming the most ruthless pirate of all, convinced that he's a dutiful soldier and a bug exterminator, when his war protocols projected on a peaceful planet turn into pillage and slaughter.
  • After War Gundam X takes place in a Scavenger World, so this is inevitable. Many of the "Vultures" who roam around in landships are just buy-and-sell scavengers (the protagonists are these sort), but there are plenty others who terrorize and plunder the ordinary people who are trying to rebuild some semblance of civilization. And at sea, there's a subset who are so brutal they've been dubbed "Orcs".

    Comic Books 
  • Green Arrow's origin (at least in some versions) involves modern-day pirates hijacking Oliver Queen's yacht and throwing him overboard.
  • One of the many kinds of criminals that The Punisher has fought. The River Rats from The Punisher MAX series is a recent example.
  • Members of G.I. Joe along with their Soviet counterparts, the Oktober Guard, are captured by river pirates in G.I. Joe Special Missions #4.
  • Aquaman battles Somali pirates (with unexpected consequences) in Brightest Day #1.
    • Arguably Aquaman villain Black Manta.
    • Black Jack, Aquaman's first major recurring villain was an early example of this trope who first appeared in 1941. He made many appearances during The Golden Age of Comic Books but disappeared around 1950.
  • Since The Phantom's origin involves pirates, he often fights the modern versions. In one DC Comics story, the brutal thugs attacking a yacht are contrasted with a swashbuckling movie playing on the yacht's TV.
  • Deathstroke and The Warlord in Flashpoint: Deathstroke and the Curse of the Ravager. While Deathstroke is given a bit of a pass because of his noble intentions (he's only turned to piracy as a means to rescue his kidnapped daughter) the rest of his crew are portrayed as remorseless bloodthirsty criminals who just happen to be on a boat.
  • Fathom clashes with modern day pirates off the coast of Florida in Fathom vol. 4, #1.
  • Mojo and his crew from "How Daphne lost her Mojo (and got it back!)" in the graphic novel Sex Ed 101 by Enrique Villagran.
  • G.I. Joe #6 tells Cover Girl's origin story, which involves her taking out a gang of ruthless modern pirates while a contestant on a celebrity reality show.
  • Danger Girl: Mayday begins with April Mayday and her gang of cutthroats taking over a freighter, which leads to them running into the remains of Hammer Island and discovering Natalia's body.

    Comic Strips 
  • The Terry and the Pirates comic strip dealt with the pirates of the China Seas in the 1930s (modern day for the strip), the beginnings of modern day piracy.
  • Pirates were a common foe in the early days of the Jungle Jim strip.
  • Francesco Marciuliano's comic strip Medium Large featured "Talk Like a Real Pirate Day" - much more brutal than the 'Arrr' pirate talk.
  • Modesty Blaise: Modesty and Willie fight a crew of ruthless modern pirates lead by an Englishman known as 'the Aristo' in "The Aristo" arc.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Made-for-TV Movie Desperate Voyage (1980). A modern-day vessel captained by Christopher Plummer hijacks private yachts, steals the valuables on board, and sends the passengers to the bottom of the ocean.
  • Kidnapped in Paradise. A woman is kidnapped (and her fiancee is killed) by modern day pirates.
  • A major plot point in Six Days Seven Nights.
  • In Clear and Present Danger, an act of piracy leads to an attempt by the U.S. government to systematically assassinate the leaders of drug cartels in revenge.
  • Captain Ron features some real life Pirates of the Caribbean. This is lampshaded by Martin Short's incredulous, "Pirates? Of the Caribbean? Really?"
  • In The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Zissou's boat is attacked by pirates.
  • The 1976 Exploitation Film The Muthers features a band of female pirates who go undercover at a prison camp on a coffee plantation to rescue their leader's sister.
  • In Raiders of the Lost Ark, the crew that are hired to transport Indy, his Doggone Partner and the Ark pretend to be these to try and prevent the two of them being captured by Nazis (claiming they killed Indy and planned to sell her into slavery). Interestingly it fails — most likely not because the Nazis were such good guys, but because the pirates have the wrong skin color.
  • Pirates of the XXth Century is a 1979 Soviet action film about modern piracy. It's possibly the most financially successful movie made in the Soviet Union.
  • A group of modern day pirates run afoul of Tina in her introduction in DOA: Dead or Alive — and then have the misfortune to encounter the heroines when they are stranded at sea at the movie's end.
  • The fourth Rambo has Burmese river pirates.
  • Somalian pirates get ass-whupped at the beginning of The Expendables.
  • The mercenaries assaulting the cruise ship in Deep Rising.
  • The modern pirates serve as the central conflict in the 2001 Disney Channel original movie Jumping Ship.
  • The pirate cats in Cat City. Other than having a Jolly Roger flag on their submarine, there's nothing romantic about them.
  • Captain Phillips, based on a Somali incident in 2009. It doesn't end well for the pirates.
  • Kapringen (A Hijacking), a Danish film about a ship crew that's been taken hostage by Somali pirates. Unlike Captain Phillips, here there are no Navy Seals coming to the rescue; instead, the shipping company and the Danish authorities are forced to accept the tense cat-and-mouse negotiations with the hijackers.
  • Lou Kramer (Anthony Perkins) and his gang who commandeer an oil platform in North Sea Hijack are essentially pirates, and very ruthless.
  • Jesse Kane and his son David in Aquaman (2018) are described as modern-day Submarine Pirates.

  • The Peter Benchley novel (and later film) The Island. In the novel, an anthropologist still defends and romanticizes them, proclaiming them to be one of the few remaining societies undiscovered and untouched by the modern world... even though they're almost entirely dependent on preying on the latter, and particularly prize cans of bug spray. Near the end of the book, the pirate leader kills him without blinking an eye.
  • The Dirk Pitt Adventures novel Pacific Vortex features pirates using a modern legend as a cover for ship captures.
  • Mentioned in The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey. Cannonball, first officer on the cargo ship Shortcut, explains that "modern day pirates don't fly the skull and crossbones," but definitely do exist and can be very dangerous.
  • In Atlas Shrugged, Ragnar Danneskjöld is a Norwegian 20th Century ideological pirate, completely dedicated to promoting the ideology of Capitalism and unrestrained Free Market by seizing government ships (he never attacks private vessels), selling the loot, and returning the money to those he believes the government has stolen it from. Of course, Ayn Rand portrays him as a hero.
  • From James Lee Burke's The Neon Rain (narrated by main character Dave Robicheaux):
    Now these same bayous, canals, and marshlands where I had grown up were used by the Barataria pirates. But their namesakes, Jean Lafitte's collection of brigands and slavers, were romantic figures by comparison. The current group was made up of marijuana, cocaine, and heroin smugglers who would murder a whole family out on the Gulf simply for the one-time use of their boat, after which they'd open up the cocks and sink it. Occasionally the Coast Guard would find one half-filled with water and beached on a sandbar, the gunwales painted with blood.
  • Explored in the Swallows and Amazons book Peter Duck—some of the child protagonists like to pretend to be classic eighteenth century style pirates, and get a rude awakening when their ship is attacked by real contemporary pirates.
  • Lin Chung is abducted by South China Sea pirates and held for ransom in the Phryne Fisher novel Away With the Fairies.
  • Soviet novel Adventures Of Captain Vrungel written in late 1930s, during Spanish Civil War, mentions pirates off the Spanish coast. Vrungel's yacht "Rage", a sailing disaster area, passes there and gets attacked. Fortunately, Vrungel is inventive as Baron Munchausen and manages to scare them off by making his ship look like a submarine. The animated series set in 1970s replaced pirate attack with accidentally sailing into a war games area.
  • The Alistair MacLean novels When Eight Bells Toll, Fear is the Key and The Golden Rendezvous (all adapted to film) involve the hijacking of bullion shipments by organized gangs of criminals.
  • James Bond
    • Pirates attempt to rob the wealthy passengers of a cruiser in the opening chapter of SeaFire, but find out that Bond, thanks to his experience as an intelligence agent, is more ruthless.
    • Zoltan the Magyar and his crew from the Young Bond novel Blood Fever are smugglers who also deal in piracy to gather valuables for Count Ugo Carnifex, who collects art.
  • In "Masks of Madness" in Domino Lady: Sex as a Weapon, the Domino Lady teams up with The Phantom to take down a gang of modern pirates.
  • Doc Savage: The mysterious Lord London and his ruthless pirates (mostly made up of Chinese recruited from the pirates of the South China Sea who had been displaced by the Japanese navy) inflict a reign of terror through the South Seas in Pirate Isle.
  • Dystopian thriller Victoria witnesses the downfall of the United States, with America collapsing into dozens of warring proto-states and ethnic enclaves. Various of them launch privateers to prey on what little international trade still exists; the worst are the Aztecs, who not only plunder the ships, but sacrifice the crews to the dark gods.

    Live-Action TV 
  • CSI: Miami: A boat is suspected to have been hit by pirates, but careful investigation turns out that it was a white supremacist militia group, and one of the crew was in on the attack.
  • The MacGyver (1985) episode "Pirates" had Mac clash with modern day pirates.
  • Gavin gets rescued and then promptly Bound and Gagged by these in The Brittas Empire, after being lost at sea on a potato-powered lilo. I'd like to say it makes sense in context.
  • Deadliest Warrior had the Somali pirates do battle against the Medellin Drug Cartel.
  • Burn Notice episode "Rough Seas" never included the word "pirates", perhaps to avoid invoking this, but the bad guys were thieves operating on the water.
  • The Law & Order: Criminal Intent two-parter "Loyalty" deals with Somali pirates.
  • The A-Team takes on river pirates in The Amazon in the two-part episode "The Bend in the River".
  • On 30 Rock Cerie's wedding is delayed by several months because her fiancée is captured by Somali pirates. Due to Stockholm Syndrome, some of them end up as groomsmen at the wedding.
  • The Covert Affairs episode, "The Last Thing You Should Do", is all about Auggie getting captured and held for ransom by Somali pirates, and trying to escape without blowing his CIA cover.
  • In The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, the third season episode Dangerous Waters features modern day pirates who lure in victims by pretending to be a boat in trouble, then either killing or kidnapping the people who stop to help. The plot kicks off with the Hardys trying to find a woman grabbed by the pirates, as she inadvertently stumbles over clues to the pirates' identity. The pirates state they not only intend to sell the woman into sex-slavery in China, but will kill Joe, as well.
  • You're Skitting Me: Tatiana once tried to pretend that her boat had been boarded by Somali pirates (although Tats kept calling them "Salami pirates"). However, her friend Em had no idea what a Somali pirate actually was, and instead dressed as A Pirate 400 Years Too Late.
  • Hawaii Five-0: The first season episode "Powa Maka Moana" dealt with a Spring Break Cruise being attacked and the kids kidnapped.
  • In Young Indiana Jones and the Treasure of the Peacock's Eye, while Indy and his friend Remy are traveling on a cruise ship through Southeast Asia in 1919, the ship gets attacked and robbed by Chinese pirates. The pirates' leader is a woman who was disguised as a singer, entertaining the passengers until her men boarded the ship.
  • The Magician: In "Nightmare in Steel", Tony thwarts a gang of modern pirates bent on hijacking a freighter carrying millions of dollars in fuel as cargo.

  • The "Somali Pirates Song" by Mitch Benn is about this kind of pirate, and makes it very clear that they're not like the other kind (while throwing a few 'Aharr's in for good measure). He even manages to give this trope a nod:
    The people call us pirates, but we're muggers in a boat
    Armed robbery is jolly if it's done while you're afloat

    Puppet Shows 
  • "Uh-oh, Chongo! It's Danger Island, next!" on The Banana Splits. Featured Captain Mu-Tan and his rag-tag band of modern day pirates.


    Tabletop Games 
  • For a relative value of "modern," Shadowrun Fourth Edition has a signature character named Kane. He engages in every criminal activity one expects of pirates: smuggling, kidnapping, mercenary contracting, hijacking, and killing people who can't fight back.
  • In Deadlands: Hell on Earth, the River Rats are band of ruthless river pirates who prey on survivor settlements on the western banks of the Mississippi.

    Video Games 
  • The second area of operation in SOCOM III is in the Indian ocean, fighting against a group of pirates called the Fist and Fire.
  • Uncharted:
    • In Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, about half of the enemies are Indonesian pirates led by Eddy Raja. Nathan even comments on how far they are from the idealized notion of old-timey pirates. "They don't take prisoners... well, not male prisoners."
    • In Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, there's also a gang of Yemeni pirates led by Rameses. They're based in a ship graveyard in the Indian Ocean, and, being the Wacky Wayside Tribe they are, the whole scene there could have easily been cut with no effect on the story. But it doesn't stop the shipwrecks from being a great setpiece, though.
  • B. Jenet is the female leader of the Lilian Knights (a band of modern pirates) in the The King of Fighters universe. They use a nuclear-powered submarine rather than a galleon.
  • The first mission of the computer game Comanche 4 deals with the US army fighting the pirates of Indonesia.
  • And Dangerous Waters often has rogue, "pirate" elements in speedboats. Fortunately, they go down to gunfire quickly. Unfortunately, they tend to be mixed in with civilian fishermen and other vessels, making it difficult to identify them.
  • Anno 2070 features modern pirates.
  • Far Cry 3 probably has the most realistic, dark and brutal depiction of modern piracy in video games. The operation the player must fight against controls a small archipelago, where it deals in kidnapping, human trafficking, and of course the drug trade
  • In City of Heroes one of the main baddies is Captain Mako, a mutant who looks like an anthropomorphic shark and was a former modern pirate, a first-mate. Was so ruthless in-fact that he killed his captain, hence the title, was recruited as a mercenary to put down a rebellion for the king-of-all-super-villains and upon doing so, in the most bloody way possible, was given position as one of said super-villain's right hands... and he is currently looking at his new boss with the same hungry eyes he was looking at his old one.
  • One of 47's targets in episode 5 of Hitman (2016) is a former Tamil Tiger who turned to piracy after they were disbanded. She continued with that for a while until she lost her arm during a raid, for which her captain unceremoniously cut her loose and she eventually got her current gig as a trainer for the Shadow Client's private militia.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • The former trope name was "A Disgrace to Blackbeard", coming from Cartman's assessment of piracy in Somalia in the South Park episode "Fatbeard". However, the Somalian pirates are shown sympathetically to a degree, having resorted to piracy only because a Crapsack World forced them into it, while the military that hunts them down is depicted as racist and fond of overkill. And the Somalis do turn into the more romanticized brand of pirate for a time (complete with sea chantey sing-alongs), if only because (as Cartman points out) it's just much more fun that way. (Truth in Television to a surprising degree; Somali pirates are often well-loved in their home communities, both for chasing off foreign fishermen and waste dumpers and for bringing back large quantities of money to struggling towns.)
  • Jonny Quest TOS episode "Skull and Double Crossbones". Modern day pirates force the Quests to help them obtain sunken treasure.
  • The Simpsons:
    • An episode has a lost-at-sea character being rescued by pirates, and thinking how awesome it is. We see their conversation subtitled as they cheerfully plan to sell him into slavery.
    • The Pirates that attack Homer's "Party Boat". Though they have some stereotypical pirate traits such as having parrots on their shoulders.
      Asian Pirate: Set a course for Hidden Pirate Island, A.K.A Hong Kong!
  • The PG-rated modern pirates Captain Barnibus Crab, Kim and Simon are the main bad guys in the third series of the Flipper and Lopaka animated series.
  • Archer was captured for ransom by modern Malay pirates in "Heart of Archness"; he thought that pirates didn't exist anymore and many pirate stereotype jokes are made. Then Archer becomes the Pirate King by Klingon Promotion, but proves pretty bad at maritime hijacking (he lets his victim keep his ship out of sympathy for small-business owners).
  • Batman and Aquaman clash with modern day pirates during The Teaser of the Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode "Clash of the Metal Men".
  • One of the Rupert cartoons featured river pirates, who show up in a later episode as members of a pirate retirement home, which had previously been inhabited solely by more traditional pirates.

    Real Life 
  • Recently published histories of the resurgence of modern piracy include Jolly Roger With An Uzi, and Dangerous Waters.
  • First attacks by Somali pirates on ships passing through the Gulf of Aden date as early as 2000. However, their origins can be traced way back to the '80s, when the former Somali government funded fishermen programs.
  • In 1997, Albanian government collapsed, creating a power vacuum which was soon filled by criminal gangs, among them pirates. Albanian pirates mostly attacked ships from neighboring (and far richer) Greece, until the Greek Navy chased them away.
  • In 2013, a pensioners group in the UK were informed that at their next meeting, they would be entertained by a man talking about pirates. Given the nature of the event, they assumed he would be some sort of musician or storyteller, or someone who performed in character as a pirate of the traditional kind. So some of the elderly regulars decided to dress up in pirate fancy dress costumes. Then it turned out that the man giving the talk about pirates was a captain who had been hijacked by Somali pirates, and was doing public speaking about his experiences.
  • Drug traffickers smuggling their wares over water sometimes attack and hijack one another's vessels for the narcotics they're carrying.
  • The Russians use them as target practice.

Alternative Title(s): A Disgrace To Blackbeard