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The Pirates' Toll: High Stakes on the High Seas

Colleagues in the industry pooh-poohed Christodoulou's fears. "Don't worry about it. It's a few ragtag guys. Nothing's going to happen." They pointed out the minuscule odds of a ship getting hit. If twenty-some-thousand craft sail through Pirate Alley in a year, and a few dozen are hijacked, the result of the obvious math ought to ease any ship owner's mind. (Even considering the huge upsurge in Somalia-based piracy since 2008, the odds of capture remain microscopic. If the number of annual GOA-Suez transits are to be believed, in 2009, a ship had a 0.002% chance of getting hijacked.)

And yet, Christodoulou says, "There was just something in the pit of my stomach saying, 'You know what? I don't think so. Let me really look at this.' I studied every attack that had occurred within the last two years."



BELT AND SUSPENDERS
To that point in 2008, 57 ships had reported to the International Maritime Bureau (a group that monitors high-seas crime for the International Chamber of Commerce) that Somali pirates had attacked them; 38 had been hijacked.

Of those, perhaps a dozen were still anchored off the coast of Somalia, engines idle in a kind of pirate-induced doldrums, awaiting ransom deals as their owners negotiated with the pirate bands for their release.

Christodoulou took precautions, what he likes to call a "belt-and-suspenders approach." First, ISEC went all-in on insurance, paying up for every sort of policy on the market that promised to guarantee against piracy-induced losses. (Some of it purchased from Hiscox, the huge British underwriter, one of the largest syndicates at Lloyds' of London [pictured above].) He bought loss-of-hire insurance, to cover the income the Biscaglia wouldn't be earning should pirates hold the ship for who knows how many weeks. He bought a kidnap-and-ransom policy, new to the maritime insurance trade, previously the domain of the famous, the super-rich, and those with business to conduct in places like Colombia. (Some shippers consider K&R insurance unnecessary, since war risk premiums are thought to be enough to cover ransom payouts.) Total cost for the voyage's insurance: $50,000.

He hired security guards (three of them): $40,000. He armed them with a so-called long-range-acoustical device, the amplifiers that somehow beam ear-splitting noise directionally over thousands of feet and into the ears of pirates or rioters or protesters, who -- the manufacturer's marketing literature assures -- will then double over in skull-clutching anguish: $5,000. (But he didn't arm the guards or crew with actual arms. Putting guns aboard ships remains taboo in the merchant-shipping business, not because of any pacific worldview on the part of ship owners, but for fear of the liability-lawsuit nightmare should a firefight erupt between pirates and the crew and any seafarer-workers get hurt, or worse. This taboo, however, might be changing.)

He had reams of concertina wire wrapped around the perimeter of the Biscaglia's deck: $10,000.

Totting it all up, Christodoulou says ISEC spent about $100,000 to protect itself from pirates and any potential damages caused by them.

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