Welcome to the Pirate Action Group. Pirate commander Jamal wishes to congratulate you on being hijacked. Kindly speak to his negotiator about your ransom, bearing in mind that his demands are similar for every vessel he seizes.
This is not an absurd joke -- this is how the pirates of the African coast do business, and it's a serious matter for the companies that have to pay out.
In 2011, Somali piracy cost the world economy $7 billion and earned the pirates some $160 million in ransoms, according to a recent report by the International Maritime Bureau.
Piracy is receding of late, but it is still a threat. The maritime bureau reported 69 hijacking incidents by Somali pirates between January 1 and July 12, down 32 percent from last year.
Rogues though they may be, these pirates in many cases are surprisingly well-organized, down to having their own packets of paperwork -- on letterhead -- for their victims.
Reuters obtained a copy of one such packet, presented to the owner of a hijacked oil tanker and the owner's insurer after the ship was taken. Due to the commercial sensitivities, the names of the insurer and ship owner were redacted from the document, as was the size of the ransom request.
But what remains is colorful enough, and somewhat surprising. The cover sheet, in memo format, is addressed "To Whom It May Concern" with the subject line "Congratulations to the Company/Owner."
"Having seen when my Pirate Action Group (P.A.G) had controlled over your valuable vessel we are saying to you Company/Owner welcome to Jamal's Pirate Action Group (J.P.A.G) and you have to follow by our law to return back your vessel and crew safely," the memo begins.
The tone of the memo belies the violent reality of the pirate's actions. As of early August armed Somali pirates hold more than 170 hostages, according to the IMB, and were responsible for 35 deaths in 2011 alone.
"Do not imagine that we are making to you intimidation," the memo says, before signing off with "Best regards" and the signature of Jamal Faahiye Culusow, the General Commander of the Group.
Lest there be any doubt about who Jamal is or what he does, his signature is accompanied by his seal -- yes, Jamal has a stamped seal -- depicting a skull and crossed swords with the name of the group.