Pirates are the scum of the galaxy (from a certain point of view). Their hobbies are robbing traders, killing traders, fighting against the local military vessels, and more. They have many types of modified ships, including the Manticore, the Carrier, the Enterprise, the Starbridge, the Valkyrie, The Argosy, the Thunderhead, and the Viper. All such ships are available in a number of variants.
As well as the standard pirates, there are several pirate factions:
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Although the Association of Free Traders is often mistaken for pirates due to the fact that they use pirate ships, the Association (coded in the HUD as "Assoc") is actually a trading guild. Even though they use pirate ships and weapons, they help traders and attack real pirates on sight.
The Associated Guild of Free Traders (coded in the HUD as "Fr Trad") is the actual pirate organization that comes under attack from virtually every other organization in the game (all governments, bounty hunters, Wild Geese, pirates, etc.).
If you kill pirates in a given system, that system and its immediate neighbors will regard you more favorably.