The author of several past Proceedings articles from hot spots around the world files this report from Mombasa.
For Somali pirates, 2008 was a bumper year. In more than 100 major documented attacks, pirates seized approximately 40 large commercial vessels in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden.
Several merchant ships and their crews are still being held in pirate enclaves, but others have been ransomed back to their owners for an average price of $1 million. In January, the owners of the MV Sirius Star, a brand-new tanker with a load of crude oil valued at $100 million, paid $3 million to secure the release of the tanker and her 25 crew members. And in early February, the owners of the MV Faina, laden with armored vehicles and other weapons, shelled out an estimated $3.2 million for the release of the ship and her crew. The United Nations estimates that pirates raked in around $20 million last year, this in a country where 25 cents can buy dinner.