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Pirates' Toll (Part 3): The Art of the Ransom Deal

This is the third part of a four-part series on the rise of hijack-and-ransom piracy in the shipping lanes off the coast of Somalia, and the costs it poses to the merchant shipping industry -- and global trade as a whole.

>>The Pirates' Toll: Part 1
>>The Pirates' Toll: Part 2
>>The Pirates' Toll: Part 4



WHEN PIRATES ATTACK: SCENES FROM A HIJACKING
According to the International Maritime Bureau's 2008 annual report on world piracy, the attack occurred at about a quarter to eight in the morning, local time.

Flashes of hearsay, of details cobbled from secondary sources: Two speed boats carrying 11 or 12 men (no one seems to know for sure, except, probably, the pirates themselves), overtook the MV Biscaglia in the Gulf of Aden. Slow and low, the ship had fallen two hours behind the convoy led by the French naval frigate. The people on the skiffs, most of them apparently teenagers, carried AK-47s and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher -- the de rigueur weaponry of Somalia's pirate squad.

Pirate Interactive Map

The ship's alarm sounded; the captain sent a distress signal from the bridge. The French warship received the signal, and two helicopters -- one French and one German -- launched, en route to intercept the Biscaglia.

A naval chopper confronts a pirate skiff in a separate incident in the photo above.

The captain gave instructions to the helmsman. The ship went hard to starboard and then hard to port -- an S-turn -- an attempt to kick up a wake. The wake was meant to hinder or, best case, capsize the skiffs. It didn't. Bullets sprayed the wheelhouse. Windows shattered. The Biscaglia's security-guard specialists, two ex-marines, one ex-paratrooper, all three British, aimed the LRAD. They unleashed its noise-ray. The pirates did not collapse in skull-clutching anguish. "It was a total waste of time," one of the guards later said. (The LRAD people have disputed this characterization.)

Two grenades detonated on the deck. No one was injured; damage was light. Smoke rose from the deck and turned the air acrid. The security guards found a few scaffolding poles, put them on their shoulders and fired their flare guns -- red balls whooshing -- through the shafts -- MacGyver bazookas. The bazookas, however, were "wildly inaccurate."

The day was sunny and warm.

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