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The Pirates' Toll: High Stakes on the High Seas

He also says, "Regardless of the financial costs of piracy, it's still first and foremost a human issue -- period. The pirates are taking the ships because they know that the people, the crews, are what's being paid for to be released."

>>The World's Navies Respond to Somali Piracy

But the full meaning behind this insight would only come in time. Before the hijacking, Christodoulou was more concerned with the fiscal health of his company, Industrial Shipping Enterprise Corp., or ISEC, which he had taken over as CEO in 2007, hired by its seed-capital investors to prepare it for an eventual IPO, at which he had some experience.

Though his name might suggest deep nautical genetics, or whitewashed villages climbing the cliffs from a turquoise sea, Christodoulou was born and bred in New Jersey, the son of a printer. (He sometimes looks the part, though. Burly as a stevedore, he seems to prefer heavy woolen turtleneck sweaters. At such times, you wonder where's the corncob pipe.) He came to shipping in the late 1990s while working for a private equity firm that had transacted some business with the company that would become General Maritime (GMR). He got to know its founder, Peter Georgiopolous, who brought him on as chief financial officer. He helped take it public in 2001. He did the same, a few years later, for OceanFrieght (OCNF). In between, he worked as a shipping-industry banker for a boutique investment bank called Dahlman Rose.

ISEC, however, was a long way from the New York Stock Exchange. It employed five full-time people, Christodoulou included, outsourcing most of its tasks. Annual revenue approached $8 million, and it owned just two ships -- a pair of sibling double-hulled "product tankers," the kind of vessels outfitted to carry anything wet, save for crude oil. Built in 1986, the sisters had aged. Christodoulou's ultimate goal was to renovate and expand ISEC's "fleet," if that term was yet quite applicable, but any IPO dreams had been deferred in the late summer of 2008, with a global financial crisis and recession just then expanding into bloom.

In September 2008, when ISEC scored a cargo -- $600,000 to carry 25,000 tons of palm oil from Indonesia to Spain -- Christodoulou's main goal was to get through the rest of the year unscathed. He focused his attentions on the Biscaglia's latest voyage.

The fastest way to point B would take about 28 days and would mean a transit through the Gulf of Aden, a.k.a. "Pirate Alley," often abbreviated "GOA" by shipping people, and known in the Somali language as Khaleejka Cadan. Four times the area of Texas, the Gulf of Aden is 200 miles wide and 550 long -- a crocodile's mouth of water formed by the jaws of the Arabian Peninsula coast to the north and the Somali Horn of Africa to the south. It funnels all Mediterranean-bound traffic up the sluice of the Red Sea; in either direction, almost anything that wants to use the Suez Canal -- where ships ride the lochs over the sands of the Sinai -- must therefore traverse the Gulf of Aden.

[Above, a convoy of merchant ships makes its way through the GOA, led by a warship.]
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