Piracy is a robbery committed at sea, or sometimes on the shore, by an agent without a commission from a sovereignnation. The Golden Age of Piracy occurred mostly in the Caribbean, the Americancoast, the Indian Ocean, and the western coast of Africa. As British imperialism spread across Europe it brought about many drastic structural changes due to which many sailors and privateers found themselves unemployed. Factors contributing to piracy included the rise in quantities of valuable cargoes being shipped to Europe over vast ocean areas, the weakness of European navies in peacetime, the training and experience that many sailors had gained as conscripts in European navies (particularly the Royal Navy), and the weakness of European government in overseas colonies.
Seaborne piracy against transport vessels remains a significant issue (with estimated worldwide losses of US$13 to $16 billion per year), particularly in the waters between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, off the Somali coast, and in the Strait of Malacca and Singapore, which are used by over 50,000 commercial ships a year. A recent surge in piracy off the Somali coast spurred a multi-national effort led by the United States to patrol the waters near the Horn of Africa to combat piracy. While boats off the coasts of North Africa and the Mediterranean Sea are still assailed by pirates, the Royal Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard have nearly eradicated piracy in U.S. waters and the Caribbean Sea.
His exploits were legendary, making him a hero to the English but a pirate to the Spaniards to whom he was known as El Draque, 'Draque' being the Spanish pronunciation of 'Drake'. His name in Latin was Franciscus Draco ('Francis the Dragon'). King Philip II was claimed to have offered a reward of 20,000 ducats, about £4,000,000 (US$6.5M) by modern standards, for his life. He is famous for (among other things) leading the first English circumnavigation of the world, from 1577 to 1580.
Howard Pyle's illustration of pirates extorting tribute from a captured citizen following the sacking of a city. In 1667, French pirate François l'Olonnais sailed from Tortuga with a fleet of eight ships and a crew of six hundred pirates to sack Maracaibo. En route, l'Olonnais crossed paths with a Spanish treasure ship, which he captured, along with its rich cargo of cacao, gemstones and more than 260,000 pieces of eight. Over the following two months, l'Olonnais and his men raped, pillaged and eventually burned much of Maracaibo before moving south to Gibraltar, on the southern shore of Lake Maracaibo. The damage l'Olonnais inflicted upon Gibraltar was so great that the city, formerly a major center for the exportation of cacao, nearly ceased to exist by 1680.