Top 5 high-profile captures by Somali pirates

After 388 days as prisoners of Somali pirates, Paul and Rachel Chandler were released Nov. 14. They were among 1,052 hostages taken in 2009, in addition to the 773 hostages taken in the first nine months of 2010, according to a recent report by the International Maritime Bureau. Click through the following slides to read about the Chandlers' ordeal and other high-profile captures.


Paul and Rachel Chandler: longest held

British couple Paul and Rachel Chandler who were released by Somali pirates speak to each other during a press conference at the presidential palace in Mogadishu, Somalia, on Nov. 14. (Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP)

While sleeping on their yacht 800 miles off the coast of East Africa, near the Seychelles islands, the British couple was kidnapped and detained for more than 10 months. Paul, 61, and Rachel, 56, both from Kent, were held so long because the pirates thought they had more money, reported the Guardian.

The pirates initially demanded $7 million in ransom for the couple, who had planned to sail the world in their retirement. According to Al Jazeera, the pirates settled for up to $1 million, including $300,000 on Saturday for the couple's ultimate release. The ransom was possibly paid by the Somali expatriate community in London, as the British government has a policy against paying ransom to kidnappers.

"We'd been told we'd be released in 10 days almost every 10 days for the past nine months," Mr. Chandler told the BBC, adding: "You can see from our state that we suffered no serious physical harm."

The Monitor's Scott Baldauff ventured onto the sea with a small band of Somali pirates in 2008, writing: "The brains behind this business – which raked in an estimated $80 million in ransoms in 2008 – can be as sophisticated as a CIA operation, with high-tech resources and highly placed personnel, or as haphazard as a Keystone Kops operation." More than 400 sailors are still being held hostage.

Richard Phillips: flashiest rescue

Maersk Alabama Captain Richard Phillips is seen at his home in Underhill, Vermont in this undated photo provided by his family on April 8, 2009. (Provided by Phillips Family/Reuters)

While transporting aid to Africa in April 2009, the US-flagged Maersk Alabama was seized by Somali pirates. Cpt. Richard Phillips volunteered to be held hostage in order to protect his crew. He was detained for five days until US Navy snipers launched a daring rescue.

In an appearance on The Daily Show a year later, Mr. Phillips recalled how the gunmen had initially approached the unarmed ship. "I was shooting flares, doing a jack-in-the-box scene, while they were shooting AK-47s up at me," said the author of "A Captain's Duty," a memoir of the experience.

"You've only 20 guys on this giant boat. Can't one guy be, like, 'rifle guy?' " replied host Jon Stewart.

"I think we are heading in the right direction for that," said Phillips. It is illegal for sailors to carry weapons, although cargo transporters are increasingly turning to private security contractors to arm ships.

"We can have in the United States here guns openly in Starbucks," Stewart replied. "My solution is quite simple: Have Starbucks open up on the boat. Then you can be in there with guns."

Samho Dream and Sirius Star: largest boats

In April 2010, Somali pirates seized the supertanker Samho Dream with $170 million worth of oil aboard, the Monitor then reported, making it the biggest and most valuable boat ever seized.

The boat and its 24 crew members were released seven months later, on Nov. 6, for an undisclosed ransom, reported the Associated Press. However, Reuters reported that a record ransom amount of $9.5 million was paid for the South Korean tanker.

Until then, the Sirius Star oil tanker was the largest boat ever seized by Somali pirates. Carrying 25 crewmen and 2 million barrels of oil – a quarter of Saudi Arabia's daily output – the ship was hijacked in November 2008 about 520 miles southeast of the coast of Kenya.

Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he was "stunned" by the reach of the Somali pirates, reported Agence France-Presse. "They're very well armed. Tactically, they are very good," Admiral Mullen said.

Samho Dream: biggest ransom

The biggest boat ever captured also commanded the highest ransom. Earlier this month, Somali pirates said they had received $9.5 million in exchange for the release of South Korean supertanker Samho Dream, which was seized in April while it was transporting up to $170 million worth of oil from Iraq to the United States.

"They initially demanded $20 million," Andrew Mwangura, coordinator of the East African Seafarers Assistance Program, told Reuters. "What I can confirm is that negotiators tell me they agreed to make the drop with an amount in excess of $9 million. This would be the highest sum paid out to pirates so far."

The second-biggest boat ever seized, the Sirius Star, was released in January 2009 for a ransom of $3 million – a relative bargain, considering the ship was worth $150 million and the cargo was worth $100 million. Days later, five of the Somali pirates drowned in a storm with their share of the ransom, the BBC reported.

"The uncle of the pirate who washed ashore, Abukar Sheikh Hassan, told the BBC that the family had found $153,000 in a plastic bag in his pocket. He said some of the money was wet and the family was now trying to dry it out."

Thai boats: farthest afield

In April 2010, Somali pirates seized three Thai fishing boats, carrying 77 crew, 1,380 miles off the Somali coast – about the same distance as New York City to Houston.

"It's the farthest east that any attack and any hijacking has taken place, certainly since Eunavfor [European Union Naval Force] arrived in the area in December 2008," the European Union's Naval Force spokesman John Harbour told the BBC. Commander Harbour told Xinhua that the attack so far out at sea "was a clear indication that the EU, NATO, and CMF [Combined Maritime Forces] were having a marked effect on pirate activity in the area."

According to this factbox from Reuters, all three ships and their crew members are still being held in detention off the coast of Somalia. In July 2010, Somali pirates hijacked a chemical tanker in the southern Red Sea for the first time, according to the International Chamber of Commerce International Maritime Bureau.