Motivated by a few sky-high ransom paydays, Somali pirates are holding on to hijacked ships and crew almost twice as long as they did only 18 months ago, prolonging the hostages' ordeal and increasing their numbers to above 500, a possible record.
Ships hijacked in April, May and June have been held an average of 106 days, up sharply from the 55 days that the average ship hijacked in early 2009 was held, maritime expert Cyrus Mody told The Associated Press. Pirates now hold 508 hostages from 22 vessels, Mody said Thursday.
"People are making really huge amounts of money now," said Roger Middleton, a piracy expert at the London-based think tank Chatham House. He said that whereas pirates in 2009 and 2008 were getting around $1 million per vessel, ransoms appear to be going higher. Middleton said reports that a $9.5 million ransom was paid earlier this month for a South Korean tanker carrying crude oil were credible.