Timeline: Pirates

Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff

Notable events in pirate history, from 700 B.C. to the present

by Mark Hughes
c. 700 B.C.

The Iliad and Odyssey describe early raids on coastal communities by pirates.

c. 150 B.C.

Sicilian pirates control much of the eastern Mediterranean Sea. No governments are capable of curtailing the pirate threat; especially Rome, which is experiencing a number of civil wars.

75 B.C.

A Roman aristocrat, Gaius Julius Caesar, is captured by Sicilian pirates and held on the island of Pharamacusa. After his ransom is paid and he is freed, Caesar returns with a military force that takes over the Sicilian base and executes all of the pirates.

c. 67 B.C.

Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, or Pompey, is assigned a naval expedition by the Roman Senate to crush piracy in the Mediterranean once and for all. His campaign results in the elimination of all major pirate forces in the Mediterranean Sea for hundreds of years.


Vikings from northern Europe make raids along coastal areas in North America, Europe, the Mediterranean, North Africa, and numerous inland routes by river.

c. 1700 to 1730

One of the greatest increases in piracy occurs in the Carribean at the beginning of the 18th century. Anne Bonny, Henry Morgan, Mary Read, and Bartholomew Roberts are notable pirate captains of this era.


Fed up with Barbary pirates harassing American ships near North Africa, the United States passes the Naval Act of 1794. This act establishes several new frigates to combat the pirates and leads to the formation of the United States Navy.

1800 to 1820

Pirate bands unite near China and gain possession of part of that nation’s southern coast in what is now the Fujian and Quandong provinces. Pirate operations are destroyed in 1820 by a revitalized Chinese navy.


The government of Somalia collapses, ushering in years of war and economic devastation. Pirate activity increases along the unguarded coast by the local population as they struggle to survive.


The International Maritime Bureau reports that ten vessels are attacked by Somali pirates that year. 2006 marks the first increase in pirate attacks in three years.

July 2007

Seventeen pirate attacks in Somali waters occurr during the first half of 2007. Of those attacks, eight vessels are hijacked and 85 crew members taken hostage.

December 2007

The International Maritime Bureau reports that pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia increase to 31 in 2007, which is a threefold increase from just ten in 2006.

April 2008

Attacks and hijackings increase during the first months of 2008. The rise in attacks prompts the European Union to call for international efforts to combat piracy off the coast of Somalia.

May 2008

The United Nations Security Council unanimously votes to allow countries to send warships into Somalia’s waters to handle the pirate situation.

22 August 2008

Various naval forces establish the Maritime Security Patrol Area (MSPA) to discourage attacks on commercial vessels transiting the Gulf of Aden.

September 2008

A Ukranian ship, carrying 33 tanks, is hijacked by Somali pirates.

October 2008

NATO dispatches a naval force to patrol Somali waters. This task force will allow already present patrol ships to expand their area of coverage to 2.5 million square miles.

18 November 2008

A Saudi supertanker carrying $100 million in oil is captured by Somali pirates 500 miles off the coast of Somalia. The supertanker is the size of three aircraft carriers and will likely anchor in the Somali port of Eyl on the Gulf of Aden.

8 April 2009

An American vessel is hijacked by Somali pirates off the Horn of Africa. It is the first time the U.S. is a victim of piracy in more than 200 years. Pirates take the ship's captain, Richard Phillips, hostage on a lifeboat. The ship, the Maersk Alabama, was carrying food and other aid products for the World Food Program. On April 8, U.S. Navy SEAL snipers, positioned on fantail of the destroyer Bainbridge, kill three pirates and free Capt. Richard Phillips, ending the five-day ordeal in the Indian Ocean.

July 2010

Pirates, armed with automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenades, aboard ocean-going fishing vessels hijack a chemical tanker in the southern Red Sea. It is the first documented hijacking in this area.


The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reports 445 attacks, 53 hijackings, 1,181 crew members taken hostage, and 8 killed in 2010. Of these, the majority take place off the eastern and southern coasts of Somalia: 219 attacks, 49 hijackings, and 1,016 hostages.


The IMB reports 439 attacks, 45 hijackings, and 802 crew members taken hostage in 2011. As in 2010, 8 crew members are killed.


The IMB reports 297 total attacks, 28 hijackings, 585 crew members taken hostage, and 6 killed in 2012.


The IMB reports 264 total attacks, 12 hijackings, 304 hostage-takings, and 1 killing in 2013.

Captain Phillips, the true story of Captain Richard Phillips and the 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of the MV Maersk Alabama, is released starring Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi. The cargo ship was the first American vessel to be hijacked in two hundred years.


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