Somali pirates aren't much like those in the history books

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They've been described as "noble heroes" by sympathetic Somalis, denounced as criminals by critics. But the word most used to describe the men holding an American captain off the Horn of Africa is "pirate" — conjuring images of sword-wielding swashbucklers romanticized by Hollywood.

The 21st century reality, though, is a far cry from that. There are no treasure-laden islands or Blackbeards in this part of the world, no wooden schooners flying skull and crossbones flags.

Instead: a vigilante movement that years ago tried to defend Somali shores morphed into full-blown pirate scourge — after fishermen on defense stumbled upon an astoundingly lucrative bounty waiting to be had on their doorstep: around 25,000 ships, most unarmed, transiting the Gulf of Aden each year.

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