Widgets Magazine
MIGHTY HISTORY

The only legal pirate ship of the 20th century was the Goodyear blimp

There's a lot to unpack in this headline – the legality of pirates, why there would be pirates in the 20th century, how they came to be flying the Goodyear Blimp of all things, and what would be the best way to be a pirate when your only ship is an unarmed airship that proudly displayed your tire company of choice.

First, let's talk about legal piracy.


Definitely not your torrent collection. If you don't know what torrents are, then you're probably good.

Know that "piracy" is always illegal, and the only time it's not against the law is when we agree to call it something else. In the old days – that is the old days of wooden sailing ships – ships known as "privateers" sailed the high seas. These were privately owned and operated ships that were allowed to board and capture this ship of a particular nation, claiming it and its cargo as prizes. A privateer is not a pirate for one simple reason: the privateer carries a Letter of Marque.

A Letter of Marque is issued by one country, listing the specific assets available to the privateer, the enemy nation from which those assets can be seized or destroyed, and the authorization for the privateer to do it in the name of the issuing country. Famous privateers include Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh (who raided Spanish gold ships for the English) and the Goodyear Blimp Resolute.

Wait, what?

(U.S. Navy Photo)

For the first time since the War of 1812, the President, through Congress, issued a Letter of Marque to a civilian ship. In this case, the letter of marque allowed the private-owned airship to search for Japanese submarines in the Pacific Ocean, and allowed its crew to be armed without violating any laws of armed conflict.

And it was. The Resolute was based in Los Angeles and was used in regular patrols of the Pacific Ocean, searching for Japanese submarines operating along the United States West Coast. Its crews' only armament was small arms, but there was little chance of the airship successfully boarding and capturing a Japanese submarine. The airship would just have radioed the location of the submarine to ships who could come do something about it.

Too bad there would be no chance of taking prize money.