According to the International Maritime Bureau's 2008 annual report on world piracy, the attack occurred at about a quarter to eight in the morning, local time. Flashes of hearsay, of details cobbled from secondary sources: Two speed boats carrying 11 or 12 men (no one seems to know for sure, except, probably, the pirates themselves), overtook the MV Biscaglia in the Gulf of Aden. Slow and low, the ship had fallen two hours behind the convoy led by the French naval frigate. The people on the skiffs, most of them apparently teenagers, carried AK-47s and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher -- the de rigueur weaponry of Somalia's pirate squad.
"What was their first number?" "High." "More than ten million?" "Higher." "More than fifty?" "No, no. But it was ridiculous. It was more than the value of the ship. It was like, 'Guys, just take the ship, then.'" A body of common knowledge -- of best practices, helpful contexts, rules of engagement, SOPs -- has evolved over the last few years when it comes to the highly specialized ins and outs of negotiating with Somali pirates. Christodoulou's introduction to this world came over breakfast at Claridge's, in London. ("I always stay at Claridge's when I'm in London.") Two days after that first phone call on Thanksgiving night, he flew there to meet with his insurance representatives and, most importantly, the professional hostage negotiator assigned to him by his kidnap-and-ransom underwriter. K&R insurers keep such specialists on retainer. Reginald Taylor (not his real name) happened to work for one of the more illustrious firms in this secretive business: Risk Management, which once employed the man on whom the Russell Crowe-vehicle Proof of Life was based. The average length of captivity is 60 days. The ships are nearly always taken to points off the coast of known pirate strongholds and anchored there. The pirate gangs -- thought to be run by clans, which are thought to be headed by so-called "boards of elders" -- will assign an English-speaking negotiator to each ship. The negotiators are likely subcontractors or middlemen; they're based for the most part on the beach, not onboard the vessels, so as to avoid cases of Stockholm syndrome; they might be working on several hijacked ships at once. Threats will be made: Running ships aground. Debarking crew members and hustling them into the interior. "It's a long and laborious negotiation," says Dick Hildreth, a kidnap-for-ransom specialist with the firm Corporate Risk International, of Reston, Va. "The negotiators and the pirates will change their minds halfway through. They'll lie."
Because of ISEC's tiny size, Christodoulou pretty much had to serve as his own negotiator. To his counterpart on the other side of the planet, however, he presented himself as "Gus," a fiction, a second personality for Christodoulou to play-act: a company employee deputized on behalf of ISEC's chieftains to work a deal with the pirates.