As dawn breaks over the Indian Ocean each morning, elders in Somali pirate bases sip strong coffee and clutch mobile phones to their ears, eager to hear the latest from the gunmen out at sea.
Have any more ships been hijacked or ransom talks concluded? Any news of the Western warships hunting them?
Last weekend's spectacular capture of a Saudi Arabian supertanker loaded with oil worth $100 million has jacked up the stakes in what is probably the only growth industry in the Horn of Africa state.
Massive ransoms have brought rapid development to former fishing villages that now thrive with business and boast new beachside hotels, patronized by cash-rich buccaneers who have become local celebrities virtually overnight.
Investors have been attracted from around Somalia.
"There are some 'pirates' who never shoulder a gun or go out into the ocean, but they own boats which earn them a hell of a lot of money," gang member Bashir Abdulle told Reuters by phone from Eyl, the most notorious of the pirates' strongholds.
Just three years ago, maritime security experts estimated there were just five Somali pirate groups and fewer than 100 gunmen in total. Now they think there are more than 1,200.
Some analysts trace the gangs' roots to ties forged with criminal networks across the Gulf of Aden in Yemen during years of people-smuggling operations.
Others say the buccaneers began life as a rag-tag "coast guard" formed by elders enraged by European fishing fleets illegally trawling Somali territorial waters for tuna, and even more clandestine craft dumping deadly toxic waste on its shore.
But the biggest lure now, of course, is the vast ransoms being paid for captured ships. Kenya says it thinks the pirates have received more than $150 million this year alone.
Many young men who used to work as bodyguards and militia fighters for Somalia's many warlords and feuding politicians have quit their guns to chase rewards out on the waves.
And most worrying for the international community, some analysts see links between the pirates and Islamist militants who control Somalia's south and are advancing slowly on Mogadishu.
In some areas, residents say the pirates are the only ones allowed to defy night time curfews imposed by the Islamists.
Russia has proposed raiding the pirates' land bases such as Eyl, but the NATO alliance has said African nations must take the lead. Few in the gunmen's strongholds showed any fear.
"I know piracy isn't good, but if it wasn't for them I wouldn't be able to make a living," shrugs Kadija Duale, a mother of four in Eyl. She sells the gunmen $3 cups of tea on credit, then collects when they receive their share of ransoms.
（英语点津 Helen 编辑)
About the broadcaster:
Cameron Broadhurst is a print journalist from New Zealand. He has worked in news and features reporting in New Zealand and Indonesia, and also has experience in documentary and film production. He is a copy editor in the BizChina section of China Daily Website.