The pirate city of Eyl is Somalia's only boomtown. In a country that has seen 14 provisional governments since 1991 — all of them corrupt — high-seas hijackings have been the best business in town, and may net upwards of $100 million this year.
The seizure of an Iranian-owned ship in the Gulf of Aden Tuesday was only the latest in a series of assaults that have accelerated drastically since the summer.
The International Maritime Bureau's Piracy Reporting Center said before Wednesday's hijacking that 88 attacks have been reported in the area this year, including 36 successful hijackings. About 14 vessels — and 250 crew members — are still being held hostage. Intelligence sources believe the number of vessels held presently is about 15.
Many seafarers are receiving double pay for traveling by Somalia's dangerous coast. Most of the kidnap victims are Filipinos, who constitute about one-third of the international shipping force.
Major shipping operators already bypass the Gulf of Aden, traveling all the way around the Cape of Good Hope at Africa's southern tip to avoid the waters that lie before the Suez Canal.
"It's got a lot of people's attention and is starting to have impact on the commercial side," said Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The risks for international shipping and the industries it serves are enormous. A report on the piracy crisis prepared by Chatham House, a British foreign affairs institute, called it a "very serious" problem, making insurance premiums skyrocket and raising the future prices of goods.
A number of navies have started sending warships to the gulf to protect their shipping interests, and Blackwater is planning its own small anti-piracy fleet. These renewed efforts haven't stopped pirates just yet.
Heres a list of ten of the biggest vessels still in pirates' hands.
1. Sirius Star
Hijacked November 17
Cargo: 2 million barrels of oil, valued at $100 million
Crew: 25 men
2. MV Karagol
Hijacked November 12
Cargo: 4,000 tons of chemicals
Crew: 14 Turks
3. MV Stolt Strength
Hijacked November 10
Cargo: Phosphoric acid
Crew: 23 Filipinos
4. CEC Future
Hijacked November 7
Crew: 11 Russians, one Georgian, one Lithuanian
5. MV Yasa Neslihan
Hijacked October 29
Cargo: Iron ore
Crew: 20 Turks
6. MT African Sanderling
Hijacked October 15
Crew: 21 Filipinos
7. MV Faina
Hijacked September 25
Cargo: 33 T-72 Russian battle tanks
Crew: 17 Ukrainians, 2 Latvians, one Russian
8. MV Captain Stefanos
Hijacked September 21
Crew: 17 Filipinos, two other nationals
Hijacked September 18
Cargo: 17,000 tons of salt
Crew: 25 Filipinos
10. MV Great Creation
Hijacked September 17
Cargo: Chemical fertilizer
Crew: 24 Chinese, one Sri Lankan