If anything has brought the merchant shipping industry into the light of popular culture over the last two years it's been the pirates of Somalia, who have during that time hijacked 94 vessels, held an estimated 1,800 people hostage, and extracted something close to $200 million in ransom from ship owners around the world. They've attacked virtually every type of sea craft there is -- polished European sailing yachts, dilapidated Vietnamese fishing trawlers, bone-white promenade-deck cruise ships sailing out of Miami, break-bulk stick freighters chugging out of the Port of Singapore, high-riding container ships owned by spruce Scandinavian industrial conglomerates, low-riding dry-bulk carriers, Ro/Ro car carriers and very-large crude carriers -- the VLCC supertankers that weigh more than 300,000 tons fully loaded -- owned by Armani-draped Athens shipping magnates. The pirates are, by and large, fearless. Once, a gang had enough temerity to assail an American supply ship, the Lewis & Clark, then carrying fuel, ammunition and sailors' mail for the warships of the United States Navy. (The attack was thwarted.) So dense is the action that the crew of one ship -- the MV Horizon -- witnessed the hijacking of a second ship, the MV Titan, while both vessels were navigating pirate waters in the Gulf of Aden in March 2009. Four months later, in July, as it steamed through on a return voyage, pirates captured the Horizon. Nearly every major shipping company has experienced a run-in with Somali pirates of one kind or another: DryShips' (DRYS - Get Report) Saldanha, carrying coal to Slovenia, was captured in February 2009, released for some millions in ransom that April; Navios Maritime Partners' (NMM - Get Report) Apollon [pictured above], hauling fertilizer from Florida to India, was hijacked in December, released in late February, about two weeks ago. Earlier this year, pirates held two ships managed by the unlucky Zodiac Maritime, a privately held U.K. concern, at the same time. Eagle Bulk Shipping (EGLE - Get Report), Excel Maritime (EXM), Genco (GNK - Get Report), FreeSeas (FREE), Frontline (FRO - Get Report), Maersk -- all have had ships attacked since Somalia-based piracy first burst into the headlines in 2005.