Piracy is and was a global phenomenon and one of the most notorious places (supposedly) for piratical activity was the so-called Pirate Coast of the Arabian Peninsula, near the Straits of Hormuz. The coast stretched from what is now modern-day Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman.
The name “Pirate Coast” originated in the seventeenth century, a moniker devised by British sailors and officials to describe the struggle against their maritime presence in the region. At that time, tribal groups in the area, especially the Al Qasimi, adopted raiding as part of their livelihoods as there was little formal maritime authority in the area. It should be said that the people of the area strongly resent the accusation of piracy and see the acts against European ships as resistance against incursion. Also, European ships preyed on shipping in the area, particularly Indian vessels on their way to Mecca.
More reports of raiding date to the eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries. There was also an uptick in the number of European ships, especially the British, who were present at this time.
British officials decided to take action after a series of attacks in 1809. They moved against the Al Qasimi, a tribe particularly known among Europeans for piracy. Soldiers departed British vessels and attacked the Al Qasimi, severely damaging their fleet. Some historians maintain that this was merely an attempt by the British to extend their influence in Persian Gulf.
After a period of relative peace, relations broke down in 1815. Back and forth attacks continued until 1819 when the British decided to move decisively against the Pirate Coast. It is also likely that the British wished to limit trade competition in the region.
Led by Major-General William Keir Grant, a squadron with 3,000 soldiers set off against the Al Qasimi. They gathered local allies, landing troops in late November and early December 1819. Three British ships also attempted a blockade, but both forces found little resistance and mostly deserted settlements at first.
This was not the case at Dhayah, where there was heavy fighting. The British brought in two 24-pound guns which breached the walls of the formidable fortress. The Al Qasimi fighters there were forced to surrender. After this victory, the British continued along the coast, destroying fortifications and vessels.
The Sheikhs of the area decided to enter into a peace treaty with the British. Negotiations culminated in the General Maritime Treaty of 1820 which called for a cessation of piracy and plunder against the British. Arab vessels were to fly a specific “friendly” flag and carry registration papers which had to be produced for any inquiring British ship. The treaty also outlawed slaving on the coast or the transport of enslaved peoples.
The flag flown by the vessels of the former Pirate Coast was known as the Trucial flag, which referred to the signatory sheikdoms. Later treaties prohibited raiding amongst tribes as well. In 1853 a new agreement established a “perpetual maritime truce” and cemented the name Trucial Coast. Intermittent piratical acts continued, but at a marginal rate, especially after the introduction of steam sailing meant that most ships could outrun would-be pirates.