My article that develops an understanding of piracy as a community of practice and investigates why Somali pirates rely on the narrative that their actions are a form of protection is now available as Open Access with Third World Quarterly. In the article I develop a practice–theoretical account to provide the first systematic investigation of the justification of Somali piracy. Arguing for an understanding of piracy as a ‘community of practice’, I show how this community is organised by a ‘grand narrative’ that projects piracy as a quasi-state practice of the protection of sovereignty against foreign intruders. Paying attention to narrative provides an explanation for the persistence of piracy and assists us in understanding the phenomenon. Relying on publicly available interviews with pirates, I deconstruct this grand narrative and detail the different functions of the narrative in the light of situations in which it is told. The article develops an alternative perspective on piracy based on the study of practice, narrative and situation that provides new avenues for the study of clandestine, illicit or violent practices.