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The Pirates' Toll: High Stakes on the High Seas





Cutlasses, new money, strongholds, business models: it's difficult to resist, and likely unavoidable, this temptation to explain Somalia's pirates in the language of the rich-nation business world. It's a shorthand that allows us to convert the exotic and dimly understood into something familiar, to regain control.

And it is true: the pirate gangs of the Somali coast seen here in one of their craft have indeed developed a venture that has brought more money into these communities than perhaps ever before. Somalia, after all, is arguably the world's most notorious failed state -- no central government, feuding clans, warlords, Black Hawk Down, Islamist insurrections, terrorist influxes, drought, refugee crises from nearby genocides -- all that is dysfunctional and tragic about Africa seems to be contained in our idea of Somalia. The people who live there are now viewed in the West as the world's most trenchant have-nots.

The men in control of the country's pirate bands have, in a sense, with one of the world's busiest shipping lanes right off the beach, lit upon perhaps the most lucrative money-making scheme available to them. They've figured out a way to participate in a global economy from which they are largely excluded. Failed-state entrepreneurs, they are hijacking ships and disrupting world trade by taking -- literally, figuratively -- a toll on it.

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