“I don’t know why people are complaining about these government spending cuts and the ‘Big Society’ – it’s the best bloody thing that’s ever happened,” declares Albert Diggcock, as he fixes another cannon to the bow of his tiny yacht. “Since they’ve re-introduced privateering as an alternative to the Navy, not only have I made a bloody fortune seizing foreign freighters, but I also have the satisfaction of knowing that I’m contributing to the defence of this great country!” Under the coalition government’s new legislation, any boat or ship owner can apply for a Royal licence to arm their vessels and act as a privateer. In return for providing the UK with a coastal defence force, they are licensed to board and seize any commercial vessels belonging to non-European Union nations they find in UK waters. “It’s a great little earner for the government,” opines top political commentator Tim Fraggart, of the Daily Excess. “Not only do they make huge savings on the defence budget, but they take a thirty per cent cut from the sales of seized ships and their cargoes!”

Even small vessels such as Diggcock’s yacht, which measures barely twenty feet from stem to stern, have proven highly effective as privateers. “Obviously, I can’t take on the big stuff – container ships, oil tankers and bulk carriers, but I’ve done pretty well against the smaller stuff, especially fishing boats,” he explains. “Only last week I caught some Spanish bastards fishing illegally in our waters and fired a shot across their bows. They were only too happy to hand over their catch in return for not being sunk. You’d be surprised how much a good haul of fresh fish can fetch at the local market!” Indeed, small coastal towns and villages, such as Keyhaven, where Diggcock moors his vessel, have been thriving as a result of the activities of the new, government approved, privateers. “It’s been a shot in the arm for the local economy,” claims Don Dogger, landlord of local hostelry ‘The Windjammer’s Rest’. “The place is awash with pirate booty! These guys have money to burn. Not to mention the local trades, like cannon-making, which have been revived.” However, the revival of privateering has not been without controversy. Only last month, for instance, human rights groups were aghast when the captain of an armed Isle of Wight ferry attempted to sell fifty illegal immigrants he’d found aboard a seized Algerian freighter into slavery. “Look, it wasn’t slavery, as such,” he later told the press. “I’d simply arranged for them to work for no wages in a local dry cleaning business. I was doing them a favour really – at least they’d get bed and board and wouldn’t have been deported.”

There were also protests from several hundred passengers on a cross-channel car ferry, when it took a seven hour diversion to intercept a Russian bulk carrier in the Channel. “It was bloody ridiculous – not only did we go miles off course, but once they’d caught up the Russians, the ferry escorted it all the way back to Dover, before we could resume our journey,” said one irate lorry driver who was on the ferry. “Mind you, I can’t deny that it was pretty spectacular when we did catch up with the freighter – as we came alongside her, these doors opened along the side of the ferry, to reveal a full broadside of cannon mounted on the upper car deck!” The ferry’s master, Captain Doug Shiftwell, has vigourously defended his actions, pointing out that his passengers will be fully compensated. “Under the current privateering rules, the passengers, like the crew, were all entitled to share any booty taken during the action,” he says. “Just as soon as the ship’s owners have paid a ransom for their vessel and we’ve sold its cargo of cheap knock-off electrical goods, they should all get at least a tenner.”

Shiftwell is one of growing number of seafarers who have gleefully embraced the pirate lifestyle. “It certainly takes some of the monotony out shuttling between Dover and bloody Bordeaux twice a day,” says the ship’s officer, who admits to have been inspired to go to sea after having grown up watching Hollywood pirate movies starring Errol Flynn and Louis Hayward. “That’s the thing, before they brought back privateering, there just wasn’t any glamour left in this business. Now it’s like the good old days of the Spanish Main again!” Shiftwell, cuts a flamboyant figure, sporting a black eye-patch and thigh-length leather boots, as he boards prize ships by swinging across to their decks on a rope, a knife clenched between his teeth. However, there have been warnings that the pirate life is nowhere near as glamourous as its current advocates would have the public believe. “It’s nothing like it’s shown in the movies,” laments thirty-one year old Londoner Jim Thrapster, who has experience of modern piracy, having, three years ago, given up a job in credit control to become a pirate. “For one thing, I had to come all the way here to Somalia – they hadn’t revived privateering in the UK then. I did try going to Jamaica, like in those Johnny Depp films, but they told me that they hadn’t had pirates there for centuries.”

He was immediately disappointed by what he found. “When I got here I found they didn’t even have proper ships with sails! All they’ve got are these bloody dinghies – you try boarding an oil tanker from one of those,” he complains, sitting in his dank hut on the Somalian coast. “There isn’t even enough room for a cannon on them – if we’re lucky we’ll have a bloke with an AK-47 standing at the sharp end. It’s even worse when we board ships – there are no flintlock pistols or even cutlasses! Machetes are usually the best we have. Last week, I had to make do with a piece of wood with a nail in it whilst trying to take a container ship.” Thrapster fears that once the initial excitement of the government’s new privateering policy has worn off, it will quickly follow the path of contemporary African piracy. “The truth is that most cargoes just aren’t that valuable – all we got from that bloody container ship, for instance, was a cargo of cheap Chinese-made garden ornaments,” he says. “There’s no point in burying that crap on a desert island – you might as well just dump it at sea.”

With pirate revenues inevitably falling, idyllic pirate havens such as Keyhaven will, Thrapster suspects, quickly turn into the kind of coastal hell holes he is familiar with in Somalia. “Homosexuality seems to be the main entertainment around here. Mind you, as the only women appear to be toothless crones, it is hardly surprising,” he reveals. “You have to join in, or get your throat cut. But I don’t mind telling you that being buggered senseless by fifteen roaring drunk pirates every night isn’t really what I had in mind when I signed up. I thought it would be all sun, sea and excitement, seizing gold and busty women from passing ships and carousing wildly in Caribbean taverns! Instead, it’s all rum and buggery! Trust me – if that takes root in Britain, it’ll kill the seaside tourist trade pretty damn quick. ” Despite such warnings, the government remains firmly committed to privateering. “It’s the ‘Big Society’ in action – citizens getting involved in providing and managing local services,” says Arnold Bumgart, Minister for Shipping. “Not only that, but it has made this country far more secure – we now have literally hundreds of armed naval vessels for a fraction of the cost of building real warships. On top of that, all those seized goods and oil have slashed the cost of imports!”