A pirate is someone who commits robberies at sea, usually without being appointed to do so by any particular nation. While the word pirate brings to mind sea-fearing heroes of the last century, the truth is that piracy is still commonplace around the world. Moreover, a pirate has become a symbol of a commonplace criminal off the Somali and Singapore coasts and in the waters between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, where pirates are responsible for losses of up to $16 billion per year.
In the past, a pirate was one of the most feared criminals. As early as 13th century BCE, pirates were already terrorizing the Aegean Sea, destroying vessels and pilfering riverside villages. By the Middle Ages, a pirate had become a symbol of an era plagued by violence, fear, and prosecution. The Golden Era of piracy, which extended from 1560 until well into the second part of the 18th century, was centered in the Caribbean. Tortuga Island and Port Royal were the two most famous pirate-centers in the Caribbean, mostly because the conflicts over colonization had made the area easily accessible to visitors and pirates alike.
A privateer, or privileged pirate, was a pirate commissioned by a king to capture foreign vessels. This was a common "commerce" practice between enemy nations, and it led to serious international battles, especially between England and France. According to the law, a privateer was not technically a pirate, which meant he could not be tried and convicted if captured.
The image of the classic pirate has little to do with reality. Most of them spent their life at sea, suffered from severe nutritional disorders, and died young. Water was a hard-to-come-by commodity, so beer was the drink of choice while at sea. In the waters, a pirate was a fighter, concentrated on surviving the boredom between attacks. Once back on land, however, a pirate spent much of his time in the local taverns, drinking and gambling.
In modern days, piracy has shifted from its original purpose of stealing to include kidnapping of people for ransom, sabotage, seizing of personal objects (rather than cargo), and murder. In recent years, there has been a resurgence of pirates in areas of political unrest, such as Somalia.