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Less than two months later, however, another group of pirates captured one of the largest ships in the sea 450 miles off the Somali coast. The Sirius Star, a Saudi-owned supertanker, was carrying two million barrels of crude oil to the U.S. worth $100 million. The pirates had apparently extended their range and evaded law enforcement by operating speedboats launched from "mother ships" disguised as fishing vessels. As ADVENTURE went to press, both the Faina and the 1,080-foot Sirius Star remained under pirate control.

I first came across this new breed of swashbuckler in the summer of 2000, when I was living in Hong Kong and working as a reporter. One morning, my newspaper contained a report of the execution of 13 Chinese pirates in Shanwei, a port city along China’s southern coast. The pirates had operated off Taiwan where, disguising themselves as Chinese customs officers, they had boarded the Hong Kong–owned Chang Sheng cargo ship on November 19, 1998, bludgeoned the 23-man crew to death, dumped their bodies at sea, and sold the ship for about $300,000. The story was shocking, but what really caught my attention were the pictures. Moments before they went in front of the firing squad, the pirates were photographed laughing, joking, and falling down drunk as they climbed the steps to the execution grounds. In his book Blood Brothers, veteran Asia correspondent Bertil Lintner describes how one 25-year-old pirate, Yang Jingtao, was "jumping up and down in his rattling chains . . . [and] led the chorus with a boisterous rendition of Ricky Martin’s theme song for the 1998 World Cup, ironically called ‘The Cup of Life’: ‘Go, go, go! Olé, olé, olé . . .’ Before Yang and his fellow convicts had time to sober up, they were trucked away to an open field on the outskirts of Shanwei, forced to kneel in a row, and dispatched one by one by an executioner with a Kalashnikov—one bullet through the back of the head, one bullet through the heart. . . . Then, in the Chinese tradition, the families were billed for the price of the bullets."

The pirates were brutal killers. But it was impossible not to be impressed by their swagger. I wanted to meet some. A little research unearthed scattered information about the island of Babi, then the most notorious pirate hideaway in Asia and the world. I asked a magazine stringer in Jakarta, Zamira Loebis, to help set up a meeting, and a week later I was on a plane to Singapore, where I caught a ferry to Babi Island to meet the captain and his friend, the pirate king.

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