The Jolly Roger Flies High...As Piracy Feeds The Hungry

At 2 a.m. on Mar. 17, a bright moon hung over the Strait of Malacca. A twin-motor speedboat sped along the narrow body of water between Malaysia and Indonesia in pursuit of its target, the 5,590-ton Marine Master, registered in Panama and hauling soda ash. About 20 men clad in army fatigues, automatic rifles slung over their shoulders, scrambled up a rope ladder onto the stern and caught the 21-member crew by surprise. On Mar. 21, the pirates put the crew in nine inflatable life rafts and set them adrift; six days later they were picked up by a Thai vessel. As for the Marine Master, "by now she would have had a makeover--new name, flag, paint, and crew. The soda ash would have been sold and the ship chartered out," says Noel Chong, Kuala Lumpur manager of the London-based International Maritime Bureau (IMB), part of the International Chamber of Commerce.

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