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Say we have a large cargo spaceship and a small pirate spaceship. The pirate ship is the only one with any sort of weaponry (lasers, missiles etc.), but for the pirates to safely retrieve the cargo, they decide to board the ship and take it manually since teleportation is impossible.

So, how could a pirate board the cargo ship, without letting the precious cargo fly off into space, if a gaping hole in the side of the cargo bay would certainly mean the cargo would get ejected into space?

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    $\begingroup$ Being ejected into space would be a reasonably quick way to collect the cargo if you have the means to catch it. It's, more or less, one way that people fish at scale. $\endgroup$ – Tristan Warner-Smith Apr 2 '15 at 15:14
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    $\begingroup$ The precious cargo would not fly off into space if the cargo hold is not pressurized. Are we to assume that it is? $\endgroup$ – Casey Kuball Apr 2 '15 at 20:35
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    $\begingroup$ @TristanWarner-Smith People eject fish into space? $\endgroup$ – KSFT Apr 3 '15 at 1:51
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    $\begingroup$ Can't you just... you know ... board? Ask them nicely, while making sure your ship is facing them with its remarkably large laser displayed prominently on the bow. $\endgroup$ – Aaru Apr 4 '15 at 14:32
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    $\begingroup$ "How can a pirate board a spaceship without teleportation?" Through the Arrrrrlock, obviously. ;-) $\endgroup$ – T.J. Crowder Apr 4 '15 at 16:56

23 Answers 23

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One way would be to use suction pads.

The problem is that suction pads use air pressure in order to work, so they do not work in a vacuum. That means that you cannot attach a suction pad on the outside of a spaceship. However you can attach it inside, in order to create an airlock. Here is how it would work:

  • Before creating an airlock, you need to be firmly attached to the ship. That can be made thanks to a sort of harpoon. Once the harpoon has gone through the hull of the big ship, it opens up and liberates a plastic circle, which mill make your suction pad. What happens is that when the air inside the ship will try to escape, it will actually push the membrane, so that it will cover the hole. Then the difference of pressure between the air inside the ship and the void outside will keep the membrane in place.

  • With enough harpoons, you can get a good grip on the big ship. Now to create the air-lock. It is the same principle. You project a big tube towards the hull of the big ship. Once you are through, you deploy membranes that will prevent the air from escaping.

Edit: The basic shape of the harpoons would be something close to umbrellas, which would open once inside the ship. The "inside" of the umbrella would at pressure zero thanks to the hole you just made, and the "outside" would be at room pressure. The ribs can also help to reinforce the harpoon, much as the barbs of real-life harpoons.

Concerning the air lock, the things you deploy have something like a corona-shape.

Two more things I did not mention:

  • The defending ship has no interest in breaking your harpoons since that would result in the depressurization of their ship.
  • A good way to prevent the suction pads from working would be to depressurize the defending ship. However your harpoons would still work, just like regular harpoons.
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    $\begingroup$ I like it! The harpoons remind me of traditional Caribbean pirates, just without the suction pads. It also removes the hassle of slowing the cargo ship down, or speeding the pirate ship to the correct speed $\endgroup$ – Orfby Apr 2 '15 at 11:55
  • $\begingroup$ So these 'suction pads' are just the barbs on the harpoon? $\endgroup$ – Samuel Apr 2 '15 at 15:56
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    $\begingroup$ @Orfby It doesn't actually remove the need to match speeds. You can make it bit rough, and probably would, but the potential velocity differences between spaceships are simply too large. You'd either have snapping cables or a neat system for ripping apart ships you wanted to capture. Neat idea though. If there was some way to prevent the target from maneuvering, so you can match velocities without cooperation, this would nicely cover the rest? Military ships might be interested in this, if they have a need for hostile boardings. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Apr 2 '15 at 16:55
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    $\begingroup$ Be sure you can disconnect the harpoons and air-lock without killing everyone on board the cargo ship - or the cargo ship would always fight for their lives - which is much more dangerous for the pirates. It would probably be best to first rely on threats like in VilleNiemi's answer and this is what happens if they are prepared to fight. $\endgroup$ – DoubleDouble Apr 2 '15 at 19:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Samuel The point of the suction pads is to avoid the air from leaking, which wouldn't work if you just put the pads as barbs. I edited my post to add a more visual description. $\endgroup$ – Maxime Lucas Apr 3 '15 at 11:43
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The canonical solution in scifi is as mentioned by others threaten to open fire unless the ship allows you to board. This is not only practical (unless you have a reputation for killing surrendered crews), but low risk. It is also financially efficient as it keeps the ship and cargo value intact and the crew alive for ransom. It is also generally best solution for the owner as it only causes losses that can be covered by insurance. And paying insurance is generally cheaper than arming the ship so it can defend itself and paying the crew for fighting. Exception is if the pirates have a reputation for killing crews or the piracy is actually part of some sort of an ongoing larger conflict.

But that is rare as pirates generally hate fighting, there is no profit. Everything you spend on fighting reduces profit and increases risk. So most pirates try to keep surrender the best option by not killing surrendered people unless necessary. Incompetence and stupidity does exist though. As do insane people and religious fanatics.

In addition to being common in scifi this is how most real pirates have operated. Fighting is only done until one side thinks fighting is more dangerous than giving up. Usually which side is stronger gets obvious without unnecessary bloodshed.

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    $\begingroup$ Not as fun as other answers, but probably the most realistic. When facing an armed (and faster/more maneuverable) attacker, an unarmed civilian cargo ship is going to let them on board. If they don't, blow them up. The next victim will open up even quicker. $\endgroup$ – Geobits Apr 2 '15 at 14:16
  • $\begingroup$ I can see why this is a good answer, and if I was asking this question out of the blue, then I would definitely say it is the best answer. But it's realism lets it down, because of where I want to implement it into the project I'm working on, which is why I prefer skysurf3000's answer $\endgroup$ – Orfby Apr 3 '15 at 16:46
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    $\begingroup$ @Orfby Yes, I think realism is overrated myself. But knowing the alternatives, especially the obvious ones, will help you fill out your solution and avoid losing suspension of disbelief due to missing something so obvious readers can't ignore it. For example, readers should know there is a reason pirates do not simply order their prey to stop and submit to boarding and a reason "harpooning" doesn't break apart the ships. The reason doesn't really need to have any detail or even make sense beyond the "hand waving" level, but it should be known to exist. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Apr 3 '15 at 20:48
  • $\begingroup$ Good answer. Worth noting, this is exactly how modern day pirates prefer to work. $\endgroup$ – RBarryYoung Apr 5 '15 at 1:22
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Your question already assumes that the cargo ship is weaponless, and we'll also assume for the sake of simplicity that the pirates have already taken care of any escorts that might be around, so they aren't in any danger of getting blown out of the figurative water. The problem now is - they need to get the precious cargo off the cargo ship. For that, I see three possible ways to enter the ship:


Boarding Through Airlocks

The most obvious way is to simply slip spacesuits on and pop open an airlock from the outside. Any space-faring vessel should have some type of de-pressurizing zone the pirates can use to their advantage to access and enter the ship.

Depending on your priates' style, this can be done either after they've done precision damage to render the ship immobile, or mid-flight and stealthily to avoid any detection whatsoever.


Make-Your-Own-Airlock

If for some reason the ship doesn't have an entryway, they could make one on their own. Simply give your pirates an attachment to the ship that manually digs into the hull, preferably 'locking-on' like a claw, that allows the pirates to connect one ship to another for easy boarding.

It doesn't matter if they then leave a huge hole in the ship's hull after they leave - they're pirates. They got the cargo. Let the poor saps with a hole in their ship worry about that.


Just Use The Vacuum

The pirates are trying to get the cargo out of the cargo carrier. For them, letting the vacuum of space do the work for them. From there, it's just a matter of snatching the cargo out of space - either by hand with space suits, or just by flying by and scooping it into the ship through a de-pressurized 'mouth' piece, ideal for taking cargo out of the motionless vacuum of space. (Or Tractor Beams, if you want to have those).

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  • $\begingroup$ @Burke! Open the door! -Ripley $\endgroup$ – Mazura Apr 2 '15 at 21:25
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Space Harpoons! And gamma-ray lasers.

Match speed and course.
Aim.
Fire all starboard harpoons!

Okay, maybe harpoons are bad idea... but they sure are cool so mount them anyway.

Everything depends on cargo ship design.

Cargo spaceship will consists of three main parts:

  • main engine
  • crew compartment
  • cargo hold

For commercial scale transit cargo hold would be big enough to make it main hull, while engines and crew compartment would be just an attachment on top of it. In pair with it comes space elevator and/or surface-orbit cargo shuttles. Launching single monstrosity between planets would be cheaper but in same time making in unable to perform planetary landing and having low thrust-to-mass ratio. Even entering parking orbit would be waste of money (both fuel and time equals money), so instead they would just come close enough for rendezvous with local high thrust-to-mass (which implies short range) haulers. In space you do not even need to dock, just drop cargo container with radio beacon for locals to detect and pick up while cargo ship uses its own hauler/tractor beams to pick up new containers.

So now we have giant cargo ship plowing slowly but without stop through space as parking this behemoth would just cost too much. As it is capable of transferring cargo containers in-flight all you need is to convince its crew to push a button, automatic storage of fixed-size containers is quite easy (when compared to space ships) in 0g environment. Or you can just convince their computers.

And here where gamma-ray lasers come in handy. Talking is bothersome, lasers are accurate.

  1. Approach cargo ship with cool looking pirate ships, with harpoons, skulls and cannons. Intimidation is useful. Maintain radio silence.
  2. Point graser at crew compartment. Engage at low power, just enough to make bridge glow with yellow warning lights. Suggest ship crew that sharing cargo list would be wise choice.
  3. Select interesting cargo, remember that your pirate ship must be fast which induces low cargo capacity. Gently ask sailors to release selected containers in space. Gently increase graser power so cargo ship bridge lights will turn red.
  4. Collect your loot and leave cargo ship alone, thank its sailors for cooperation. Destroying more than you can carry is counter productive, after all you want to loot this ship with same crew another year, training newbies in business is such a pain.

So what if cargo ship refuses to comply?

  1. Slowly (space is big, you have time) turn your graser up 11. Remember to aim only at crew compartment.
  2. Fire magnetic harpoon.
  3. Wait for newly elected captain to send apologies for his unwise predecessor and proceed with previous checklist.

In case sailors are suicidal:

  1. Disable graser after it did its job.
  2. Send your engineers to cargo ships (harpoons tend to have line attached to them, it helps with ship-to-ship transfer).
  3. Starts transferring cargo on your own.
  4. Leave peacefully, do not damage cargo or ships more than you need to, if it can be salvaged it will be sent again... for you to loot!

It would create certain culture of piracy:

  • Do not steal military cargo, military tend to have fast and heavily armed ships.
  • Do not steal critical cargo for colonies/stations, stealing critical supplies could lead to indirect genocide. Remember that you do not want to meet military ships.
  • If any moron breaks those rules, take care of him before military ships come knocking on your Tortuga. Some military captain gets easy promotion, your favorite brothel is not nuked from orbit.
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  • $\begingroup$ Correct, threatening death means they will do the same and blow up self destruct charges and kill you. Imperative sailors allowed to live of your time is limited. $\endgroup$ – KalleMP Sep 8 '18 at 22:09
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Currently most spaceships are expected to be made from metal. Most likely one that has magnetic properties (at least enough for this purpose).

Large electromagnets on cables can attach the pirate ship, and then it can have a tube with another electromagnet that is big enough to cut an entry port with, like a lamprey eel. The smaller cables could have smaller versions that could poke weapons through the hull to protect the door that is cut through the hull for the boarders.

They can promise that if there is no funny business, they will take what they want and leave, closing the holes behind them else...

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    $\begingroup$ "Bio-readouts are all in the green, looks like she's alive. Well, there goes our salvage, guys." -Opening line from Aliens, after plasma cutting a new door. $\endgroup$ – Mazura Apr 2 '15 at 18:20
  • $\begingroup$ You might be surprised by how many common alloys are non-magnetic. The austenite allotrope of iron is non-magnetic, this is why Stainless Steel and Cast Iron are both non-magnetic, despite being predominately iron. Aluminium is non-magnetic and so is Titanium (non magnetic in the sense that a magnet wont stick to them, they are paramagnetic though). Non metallic hulls, made of carbon or silicon, are of course non-magnetic. In sum, both magnetic and magnetic hulls are highly plausible, depending on the needs of the story. Likely pirates would encounter both. $\endgroup$ – Blake Walsh Apr 3 '15 at 8:08
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I'd like to suggest something different. Given the huge success of shipping containers here on Earth in the last 50 years (http://www.amazon.com/The-Box-Shipping-Container-Smaller/dp/0691136408) I would suggest that a similar cargo handing system would also be more efficient for space travel. Moreover, as at least one of the other answers suggested regarding the cargo hold, each container would be individually powered, warmed, pressurised as required by it's contents.

On a large cargo vessel in space, moving the containers in and out would be an unnecessary waste of time and effort. Instead they could be attached externally to the ship, only requiring the connection of an umbilical for power, air etc as mentioned above, and sufficient clamping/bracing to cope with the expected acceleration/deceleration of the trip. So, I would expect some sort of modular racking system external to the ship's hull.

Given this situation, pirates would only have to draw near, and send over ROVs to detach and eject the containers, which the pirate ship could then collect. The ROVs could perhaps be adapted versions of the robots used to load/unload the cargo at space ports. Or, if it suits your story better, a giant articulated arm on the pirate ship could detach containers and move them over to attach them to the pirate ship. Or the cargo vessel's computers are hacked to order the release of the containers. Another angle could be that the containers are stripped off the vessel, to be collected later by the pirates.

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I would personally favour a boarding pod. Essentially, you fill a torpedo-like pod with your finest pirates and fire it at the cargo ship. When the torpedo smashes into the side of the cargo ship, the impact activates expanding foam (like the polyurethane foams available to us right now) around the exterior of the boarding pod which seals the breach, while armoured pirates burst out of the doors at the front of the pod. Either the crew surrenders, or is gunned down, leaving the pirates to bring it back to space-Tortuga or drop the desired cargo into their primary vessel by whatever means they see fit to employ.

If the pirates miss, they can waste the cargo ship and collect the boarding pod for the next attack.

This has the benefit of being (aside from the assumptions of casual space flight) completely within our current technological reach.

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Assumptions

  • Precious cargo equal livestocks, a dead corpse or carcass equal game over for pirate.
  • Both vessels are manned.
  • Pirates don't negotiate.
  • Cargo ship cannot out run pirates.
  • Cargo ship is defenseless.
  • Both vessels are close to a black hole.

Learn from the pro!

  • fire emp KO all vessels including pirates.
  • soon both ship will be pulled by the black hole.
  • send another merchant ship(stolen much earlier and manned by pirates) to the rescue.
  • Merchant ship will use tracker beam to pull the cargo ship away from black hole.
  • Prepare the crew from the cargo ship to come out and board the merchant ship.
  • Cargo ship is now unmanned and ready for the taking.
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  • $\begingroup$ This is probably the most elaborate way of stealing a ship, but this is probably the best way of selling the whole cargo ship! $\endgroup$ – Orfby Apr 2 '15 at 12:28
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Similar to Ville Niemi's answer, but more detail on actual combat.

Demand the vessel surrender. If they do, board through whatever air-locks the ship uses while in port. This should be fairly standard, as air-locks are required everywhere.

If they resist, open fire. Use a weapon designed to penetrate, not explode (ie, something high density, high velocity). Aim for the engineering spaces, based either on known ship layout, or thermal imaging - power plants give off heat.

This should result in a minimum amount of structural damage, and a maximum amount of on-board casualties. Contrary to what TV and movies would have you think, it's pretty difficult to make things explode. It is easy to make them break. Damaging the engineering spaces is likely to release super-heated steam, high pressure hydraulic-oil, and potentially radiation, killing many of the crew members in that area. It will also shut off the source of electrical power. Without power, there will be no atmosphere control or temperature control.

Over the next few hours, the remaining crew will die of CO2 poisoning, hypothermia, etc. Space suits will only provide a few more hours of heat and oxygen. Wait as long as you can afford - days if the ship is far from potential assistance - and then board via the standard airlock.

It's likely that after a few of these encounters unarmed ships will simply surrender when the demand is given. They may also begin arming themselves and traveling in convoys for protection.

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  • $\begingroup$ I hope you like hydrazine-soaked cargo. $\endgroup$ – Joshua Jul 13 '15 at 16:16
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As a pirate, I would want to have a mechanism whereby I could administer the 'lamprey treatment'.

Lamprey style

Might require a delicate touch from the operative to be effective beyond entry.

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Cargo would be strapped down for the long time in zero-G in a vessel where position of center of mass is critical for precise maneuvering. It's also possible that the hold of a large freighter would be unpressurized.

Also a sudden hole in the side of the craft doesn't mean that everything is jettisoned, the gas inside will rush out but the heavier objects take time to get moving. A quick vent will also have the air move around the slow object instead of pushing it out.

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First of all, the cargo and the crew will have entered the ship somehow. That means that there is a door.
There have been quite some movies that sported some kind of fabric covered tunnel that can be secured on the side of the vessel to be boarded.
Since your pirates will plan to do such boardings more or less frequently (it being their profession, after all), they will have a device like that.
Now all they need to do is open the door, by the handle, if possible, or with some force, and they are good to go.
Of course there would also be the possibility to take over the cargo vessel completely. That would save quite some time dragging cargo around, plus they had a nice ship to sell.

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Tractor beam as used repeatedly in Star Trek. Pull the ship in close were you make some impromptu passages, or pull the ship into a cargo bay and lay siege.

A tractor beam is simply a sci-fi version of grappling hooks. Grappling hooks were standard fare of pirates.

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  • $\begingroup$ Don't know if a small pirate ship could tractor-beam a large ship in this way. Maybe to pull itself closer, but how do you attack it? $\endgroup$ – Casey Kuball Apr 2 '15 at 21:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Darthfett A tractor beam only needs to be as big as the ship your in, to get you and another ship pulled together. $\endgroup$ – Jon Apr 3 '15 at 10:50
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A version of the Roman Corvus on the pirate vessel would be needed.

The ship would have a set of grappling arms to attach itself to the cargo ship, and the Corvus would provide a cutting head to breach the hull and a pressurized tunnel into the interior of the "enemy ship". (think of an extendable pressure tunnel with a cutting head on one end).

Once the Corvus had drilled/burned/lasered its way through the cargo ship's hull, the pirate ship could increase the air pressure on board to blow the hull section away and waft the boarding party onto the cargo ship. Once they collected the booty, lowering the air pressure in the pirate vessel brings the boarding party back. Once the inner airlock of the Corvus is secure, the cutting head is retracted (breaking the seal between the Corvus itself and the cargo ship) and the grappling legs are released, "blowing" the pirate ship clear of the cargo ship, and giving the cargo ship crew something more important to think about than giving chase.

As an incidental, the Marines or police would probably use something similar to send their boarding parties aboard pirate vessels.

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Why is the cargo hold pressurised in the first place?

It would prevent explosive decompression if it were not, and would be cheaper to build the ship. You may have a pressurised hold for carrying animals or whatever needed it, or they might just have pressurised cargo containers in an unpressurised hold (the same way we have refridgerated containers on cargo ships).

If i was in a space battle, i would depressurise the ship and use space suits. Nothing would catch fire and no-one would get sucked out.

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I would simply develop a virus to inject inside the target vessel (maybe by communication, or maybe with a little drone witch goes to connect to some terminal outside the ship, or even cut its way to the wires) and then just board as you would with a normal ship; just do it before the attacked vessel as the time to restore the system.

Obviously this mean you KNOW the system and the blueprint of the target ship, so you would be very selective, or there should be some sort of "pirate hackers" that sell that virus/drones.

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The pirates would use the deadliest weapon known with application in space. This is, of course, the can opener. For ease of application, large can openers are preferred. Spacecraft will be made of thin materials, to save on mass and to thereby reduce the energy expenditure at propelling any spacecraft up to cruising velocity.

This also means any gunfire will have bullets punching through internal walls and exiting via the outer hull. Very rapidly the ship will lose air. Space pirates only need to match velocities, pull alongside and knock on the airlock door, waving their can openers and hand guns. The threat would be immediately apparent: Open up or we will open you up and vent all your air.

Now there is one problem with the OP's scenario. The cargo ship is large, obviously carrying a lot of valuable cargo, ripe for the picking by space pirates, but the space pirates themselves are flying in a small spaceship. The whole object of piracy is economic, i.e., to make money by stealing cargo from otherwise helpless vessels. Unless a small amount of that rich cargo is exorbitantly valuable, then this act of space piracy isn't economically viable. Take your can openers and go home.

Except the space pirates will probably do real pirates do. namely, force the cargo vessel to change course and head to a location where the cargo can be transshipped and redistributed to destinations where the space pirates sell it and make a handsome profit. Otherwise you're out of the space piracy business.

This is glamorous version of space piracy. A more 'realistic' version would be that the cargo freighters loaded to the jets with rich bounty, will be robot vessels. There's no need for a human crew. Besides humans take up a lot of space and they need roughly a ton of life support per person. A waste of good propellent and energy to dispatching a manned vessel across space. Also, humans will have to be paid. Robot freighters are so obviously the way to go.

Do the space pirates turn up threatening the computer systems to heave to and prepare to be boarded? Of course, the space pirates will have the same problems. So the most likely scenario is a space pirate vessel, entirely computer controlled, matches velocities and dispatches a robot to board the freighter and reprogram its navigation systems to change course for the pirate base.

Piracy is a business and will be run like a business. The Galactic Jolly Roger Corporation will continue launching its pirate drones to intercept innocent cargo freighters and then redistributing the pirated plunder to the outer colonies until such time as they can no longer turn a profit. The company would then be wound up and taken off the stock exchange of Capella VII.

Actually the simplest, and also the most profitable way of doing space piracy would be to hack the navigation and control systems of a cargo freighter. When the right moment happened during its voyage this 'hack' would take control and steer the vessel to the pirate base.

Sorry, no glamour, no piratical hi-jinks, and no Yo Ho Ho. Just the cool headed mechanics of commerce, astrodynamics, and robot vessels with a dash of cyber-crime.

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Patch-able Airlock The problem of using an external airlock to board the cargo ship, is that once you disembark you have 2 options:

  1. Leave a gaping hole in the side of the cargo ship. This might be okay (you're pirates after all!) But will lead to the crew getting a reputation for killing innocent cargo-crew and would increase the chance of cargo ships carrying weaponry.
  2. Leave the airlock behind This however limits the number of cargo ships you can attack to the number of airlocks you carry.

Solution Having deployed your airlock (probably using a grappling system as earlier answers have postulated) and stolen all the precious loot of the cargo ship, patch the hole you've left behind! Even if its just a canvas patch (as used in The Martian ) to prevent the cargo ship depressurizing. This reduces the risk to cargo ships overall and would reduce the chance of them carrying weapons.

Hope this comes close to an answer, this is my first time posting to worldbuilding, so any advice would be appreciated :)

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They could coerce the crew of the transport ship to let them board via threats and intimidation, or by good old-fashioned lies.

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    $\begingroup$ *knocks on airlock* Candygram! $\endgroup$ – KSmarts Apr 2 '15 at 16:43
  • $\begingroup$ Candygram for whom? $\endgroup$ – Mazura Apr 2 '15 at 21:37
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First think would be to stop the ship. Eather by threats, intimidation, promises of no harm to their crew or by force. If it comes to violance primary targets would be the engines and communication. Once the ship is crippled and silenced, boarding and plundering will be piece of cake.

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    $\begingroup$ Why do you want to stop the ship? And how would that make boarding easier? $\endgroup$ – Burki Apr 2 '15 at 11:46
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    $\begingroup$ Exactly, if both you (the pirate) and your target move at 10 km/s you certainly don't want to stop! $\endgroup$ – Ghanima Apr 2 '15 at 12:22
  • $\begingroup$ It's not even clear what "stop" means in deep space since there's no obvious reference frame beyond the two ships. On earth "stop" is clear, no motion with respect to earth, but in space, a ship has many potential reference points - nearby planets/stars, the solar system it's in, the galaxy it's in, etc, and all of those reference points have their own motion to consider. $\endgroup$ – Johnny Apr 3 '15 at 15:59
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Hey Samuel so there's a number of ways to go about robbing a merchant ship blind of all their goods. the first way is to use electromagnetic weapons like an emp gun/torpedo etc to shut down a ships systems whether fully or temporarily it depending on how good the technology of the time period and then having a boarding party board the ship through its airlock armed to the teeth of course and then either imprison the crew or dispatch them so the pirates can take all the cargo or the whole ship. the second way would be something like having a smaller boarding ship with a drill like piece in the front and ramming it into the merchant ship and then the drill would open depositing the pirates inside basically making a hole and plugging it with a ship. third way just shooting their engines and either going through the airlock or using a breaching cube which basically is a pressurized cube that attaches to the ship using magnets and your crew is in the cube you cut into the ship no depressurization you stack all the cargo in the cube and the part that connected to the ships hull you cut seals shut and the cube detaches for your pirate ship to pick up leaving the empty cargo hold depressurized and open to space. by the way what do you need this for? writing a sci fi book or something? :)

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Ramming speed!

If it's a private merchant ship, then its hull will likely be thin and made of a cheap material like aluminum. Have a pirate ship with a nose like a brass paper fastener. e.g.

http://cdn.www.officedepot.com/pictures/us/od/sk/lg/909432_sk_lg.jpg

Pierce straight in, then separate, making a hole. Then send in guys with suits to tie cables to whatever you want to take, hoist them back to the ship, close the cutter, and leave. Yeah, the interior will depressurize, but so what? If you are worried about any cargo leaving the hole, have a funnel around the cutter to collect it. In and out before the Space-Police arrives.

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Magnetic grappling hooks, disable the engines and dock, shuttles that adhere to the hull and then cut through, infiltrate the crew, wormhole (which technically isn't teleportation, hack a bio printer and print clones, hack a 3d printer and print robots, hack a robot that is already built, hack the ship and get control, psychic control of a crew member, blackmail a crew member or some other form of traditional coercion, pretend to be dead in space and trick someone into docking, grappling hooks that 'cold vacuum weld' to the hull (it's real google it), psychic hallucinations that trick the crew (like psirens in Red Dwarf), disable the engines and starve out the crew.

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