For the 14 crew aboard the Karagöl, a Turkish chemical tanker churning through the lawless waters of the Gulf of Aden, it was the moment all seafarers dread: heavily armed Somali pirates were speeding towards the slow-moving cargo vessel, and there was no chance of escape.
The Turkish sailors were swiftly overpowered and the 5,850-ton tanker was diverted to a port in Somalia, where it was held for two months while its owners negotiated a ransom payment.
What the crew could not know was that their ship had been singled out as a target by a network of informers based several thousand miles away – in London. Security officials say well-placed informants in the British capital, the world centre of shipbroking and insurance, gather so much detail on targets that, in the case of the Karagöl, they not only knew its layout, route and cargo, but had spent several days practising the assault.
So much for the theory that international communications are being monitored by law enforcement...