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The Pirates' Toll: High Stakes on the High Seas

[This is the final 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 3

THE HOSTAGES
When James Christodoulou received the phone call ( "area code: Somalia") while driving on the New Jersey Turnpike -- the one in which the caller accused of him of working for the mob and dumping toxic waste into Somali waters -- he was speaking for the first time to Abbas, a new negotiator. Hussein, the one he had spent the last few weeks attempting to disarm, had evidently been fired.

Christodoulou wouldn't learn the reason why until much later, until he had a chance to speak to the Biscaglia's crew after the ship's release. Hussein's bosses -- the clan "elders," or whomever headed this particular band -- felt that Hussein had become too soft in his negotiating style, that perhaps he had shown too much sympathy toward this group of Indian captives. Hussein, evidently, had come down with a case of Stockholm Syndrome.
Pirate Interactive Map

The 28 members of the Biscaglia's crew spent the 56 days of the crisis inside the wheelhouse, an enclosure, roughly 50 feet by 20 feet, interrupted throughout by radars, desks, the helm. They slept on the available floor space, guarded by dozens of young khat-gnawing Somalis with AK-47s. They ate not from the ship's stores -- the pirates had removed much of the food on board, the better to wield control over their captives. Instead, the pirates brought live goats to the ship every few days and slaughtered the animals there.

Most of the crew, like seafarers the world over, came from poor families in poor countries. Almost all merchant ships fly flags of convenience -- that is, the "home"-port boutique registries purchased by ship owners no matter where their company might have its headquarters -- whether Athens, Oslo or Stamford, Conn. This has given rise to a lot of vessels on the water with the names of island nations and obscure microstates painted onto their sterns: St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The Marshall Islands. Malta. Kirabati. In addition to tax avoidance, the flag of convenience allows a ship owner certain labor-cost advantages: that is, the ability to hire able-bodied seamen from anywhere in the world. It's the maritime version of offshoring.
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