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Our heroes are adrift and need of rescue. Maybe they are in a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean. Maybe they are in an escape pod or a damaged starship floating in the vastness of space. Maybe their airplane or spaceship crashed in a desert, or a jungle, or on an uncharted planet. They need rescue.

And rescue arrives! Or so it seems. Actually, the first people to show up are more interested in stealing their stuff and looting their bodies than they are in actually rescuing anyone. Survivors just jeopardize the salvage value of whatever bits of Phlebotinum are left over. Our heroes either have to fight them, or escape from them, or turn the tables and steal THEIR ship instead.

Very much a part of many Robinsonade plots. Probably the reason is that the "surviving with ingenuity on a desert island" part of the story eventually gets boring, and to have a dramatic climax before the final rescuing there is nothing better than to throw in a fight with Pirates for no other reason than the Rule of Cool. See also Space Pirates and Bedouin Rescue Service.

Examples of Salvage Pirates include:


  • Interesting variation in One Piece. When the Log Pose of the Straw Hat Pirates points at the sky, they find themselves lost, not knowing know to sail up to the sky. Suddenly a group of literal salvage pirates appears, trying to salvage a ship that fell down from the sky. This ship might also contain clues to how to sail to the sky, so the Straw Hats make themselves the enemies of the salvaging pirates (for a while). Some unexpected circumstances chase the salvagers away, but Nico Robin manages to steal an Eternal Pose showing the way to Jaya Island, where they learn the way to the sky.


  • When Artoo and Threepio crash-land on Tatooine in the original Star Wars movie, they are "rescued" by Jawas that sell them to Luke.
  • Averted: In the opening scenes of Aliens, a deep-space salvage crew is disappointed to find Ripley still alive in stasis, because "there goes our salvage, boys". However, they resist the temptation to just kill her and salvage the shuttle anyways.
    • Most likely because their salvaging operation was a legit business, and murder wasn't even on the table.
  • In the movie The Land That Time Forgot (and presumably in the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel it's based on), the survivors of a passenger liner torpedoed by a first-world-war German sub drift for a while in a lifeboat... until they come across the sub that sank them in a fog, and pre-emptively turn the tables on the sub's crew, taking it over.
    • In the novel, the survivors are rescued by a British tugboat. When the tug is attacked by the same, the survivors and the tug's crew stage a counter boarding operation and take it over.
  • The Harrison Ford/Anne Heche movie Six Days Seven Nights.
  • The Disney live-action movie version of Swiss Family Robinson features pirates who must be fought to free a female captive, if only to provide a Love Interest for the two oldest sons to bicker over.
  • Both iterations of The Flight of the Phoenix feature a fight between the crew of the downed aircraft and an appropriate group of hostile local scavengers.
  • In the comedy Top Secret, Nigel was shipwrecked on a desert island. One day while fishing he was picked up by a passing freighter and gang raped by the male crew, but it turned out that he liked it.
  • Air America: When the pilots played by Mel Gibson and Robert Downey Jr. crash-land on an abandoned air strip in the middle of the jungle, rescue is swift in coming. Except that said "rescue" simply claims their cargo (which turned out to contain smuggled heroin) and leaves them to their fate.


  • Older Than Radio: In the original Robinson Crusoe, the first European ship to arrive to the island (eventually rescuing Robinson) is one where the crew has mutinied, and they are described as "pirates" in the Long Title of the novel.
  • In two Robinson-esque novels by Jules Verne, The Mysterious Island and ~Two Years' Vacation~, again the first ships to arrive to the islands are pirate ships.
  • In the novel This Perfect Day by Ira Levin, Chip and Lilac find an "abandoned" boat and use it to try to escape for an island outside of the control of the supercomputer that rules the world. The first ship from the island they come across claims to be a service to rescue new "immigrants" from the mainland, but actually, the guy pulls a gun on them, steals their ship, and dumps them overboard into the sea to drown. They're rescued a few minutes later by the real immigrant rescue boat, however.
  • In Snow Crash, Hiro and the Mafia goons get a boat sunk out from under them by an ex-Soviet missile submarine, and have to turn the tables on a shipload of pirates that comes to steal their liferaft and kidnap them and sell them into slavery.
  • In the original novel Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Wyss, the same pirates who forced the ship onto the rocks in the first place (stranding the titular family on the island) come back, and have to be scared off by the ingenious use of a quarantine flag.
  • The first installment of Piers Anthony's Bio of a Space Tyrant revolves around this happening again and again to the refugee ship carrying hero Hope Hubris and his ever-dwindling family.
  • Used no less than three times in Michael Reaves' The Shattered World, every time a main character goes adrift in the Void between fragments. When Beorn falls into the Void naked, he is menaced by a winged vampire; he lures it in, claiming to prefer a quick death, then gets it in a stranglehold and forces it to fly him to land. When Beorn and Amber are struggling to cross the sea on a tiring gryphon, their steed is netted by a shipload of dragon-hunters, who demand the gryphon and Beorn's manual labor if they're to carry the pair to safety, not dump them overboard. Finally, flashbacks reveal that when Amber and her husband Tahrynyar are cast up on Darkhaven in a storm, Pandrogas the sorcerer saves them both, but ends up stealing Tahrynyar's one remaining possession of value: Amber herself, with whom the sorcerer has an affair.
    • Used again in the sequal, The Burning Realm. When Mirrim the werewolf is left stranded alone on Stonebrow's vacated isle, the first others to arrive are pirates, whom she fools into thinking she's the resident sorceress. When an assassin is trapped in a cavern on the rim of a fragment, the being that "rescues" her is a cacodaemon, which carries her off to slavery. Reaves sure likes this trope.
  • A version of this from The Thrawn Trilogy. Luke messed up his X-Wing's systems while escaping a Tractor Beam and is stranded light-years from anything, unable to contact anyone. Within a few hours Talon Karrde, head of a smuggling/intelligence organization, arrives on the scene claiming coincidence, and offers not only to take Luke but also his ship, for a fee. Luke is wary, thinking of exactly this trope, but if he refuses he'll just be either blasted or left to hang in the void again. Soon, though, he finds that they found him using a Force-Sensitive woman who hates him, and Grand Admiral Thrawn has put out word that he's stranded in the area and could be worth something. Normally Karrde, being both a businessman and pretty decent, would be happy to save random drifters with or without a fee, but Luke complicates a lot of things, and he considers handing him over to Thrawn. He doesn't.
  • A non-illegal version is in Issac Asimov's story The Martian Way. Its a professional job where people salvage space junk and scraps of metal, rock, etc. and sell them later. They do consider stealing water, but only because a politican called Hilder litmits water trade, (water is scarce on Mars.)
  • Played with in KJ Parker's Evil for Evil. Instead of being in a vehicle or something, the character wakes up in a field after being injured in a battle. The Salvage Pirates show up to collect his gear and end up taking him, too, thinking they can ransom him to the enemy. He eventually escapes after becoming ultra paranoid that they'll do just that.

Live Action TV

  • In the Firefly episode "Out of Gas", a deep-space salvage crew decides they'd rather steal Serenity and kill its crew than make a trade for the one spare part needed to get the ship working again.
    • In a couple of other episodes, the crew of Serenity themselves are accused of trying to pull a similar trick, such as in "Bushwhacked".
      • More specifically, they're accused of doing the original damage and pretending to be salvaging.
    • Happens again in "Our Mrs. Reynolds", though bordering on Space Pirates, as they deliberately engineered a deathtrap in order to claim the then-derelict ship.
  • In the first-season finale of Lost, the raft the survivors built to escape from the island is met by a ship crewed by The Others, who kidnap Walt and try to kill the rest of the raft escapees.
  • The first episode of the TV series Crusoe features the titular castaway being threatened by pirates/escaped convicts, as well as the corrupt Spanish jailers who are after them.
  • The Prisoner episode "Many Happy Returns". Number 6 escapes the Village on a raft and encounters a fishing boat whose crew steals his belongings. He ends up fighting them and eventually captures them.
  • Star Trek: Enterprise had an episode where the Xindi brutally attack and leave the Enterprise without warp travel, making their mission hopeless. Subverted here because fortunately for them a warp ship from an explorer minor race comes by. They try to negotiate a trade for engine parts, but when the other ship's refuse, they steal engine parts by force, so it's the minor race against what should be the good guys. Even though they try to lessen the blow by giving them supplies so they can get back home, the aliens tell them they're still assholes.
    • In another episode, Voyager becomes trapped in an area of space which has dozens of ships trapped inside it, which raid each other for supplies and parts to keep running.
  • Andromeda (this is what the Eureka Maru is originally trying to do.)
  • Georgi LaForge ran into a crew of Pakled pirates once in Star Trek: The Next Generation. ("We are far from home.")


  • In "The Two Sisters" (Child Ballad 10) the elder sister pushes the younger sister into the river (or sea) to drown her, and she sinks and swims until reaching a mill pond. (Yes, even when thrown in the sea.) In some variants, she is still alive at this point and offers a gold chain to the miller to rescue her. The miller takes the chain and pushes her back to drown.

Video Games

  • Space Quest III: The Pirates of Pestulon begins with Roger Wilco's escape pod picked up by a salvage ship helmed by a robot; the robot is more interested in picking up space garbage than picking off Roger, but he'll do so if you get his attention. The rats present a more direct threat, stealing Roger's stuff and beating the crap out of him if he tries to make off with their loot.
  • "Ninja salvaging" is a viable (if somewhat short) career path in Eve Online. The salvager won't even be marked as an outlaw if he only dismantles the wrecks for parts and leaves the cargo alone. Also, people stuck in wormhole systems can occasionally find someone to point them to an exit wormhole for a price.

Web Original

  • Associated Space notably averts this trope when Fatebane and David Urquart crash-land on the Free Realm of Sarmatia, and are promptly surrounded by fierce-looking horse-warrior nomads...who promptly get them medical attention and help them on their way.
  • In Sluggy Freelance, pretty much anyone lost in Timeless Space is guaranteed to be "rescued" by space pirates.

Real Life

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