Attacks off the Horn of Africa have become increasingly audacious in recent months, as heavily armed gangs of criminals with loose ties to Al Qaeda set their sights on ransom money for hijacked ships.
Casualties among hostages have until now been rare, but with US and French forces staging two bloody rescue attempts over the weekend, pirate leaders in Somali have issued a chilling new threat.
"We have decided to kill US and French sailors if they happen to be among our future hostages," CNN quoted Abdullahi Ahmed, a member of a pirate group based in the Somali town of Harardhere, as saying.
His comments followed the slaying of three pirates who had taken US captain Richard Phillips hostage after a bungled raid last week.
Mr Phillips had heroically offered himself up as a captive after his crewmen barricaded themselves out of harm's way following the attempted hijack on their ship, the Maersk Alabama, on Thursday.
When the pirates realised commandeering the ship and returning to port was not an option, they escaped with their lone hostage in a lifeboat - where they held him at gunpoint for five days, as US warships circled.
But the standoff ended on Monday after three US snipers skilfully fired three bullets on choppy night-time seas, killing all the captors.
American media outlets gushed at the happy outcome, with Fox News running round-the-clock coverage of the dramatic rescue. Coming on the heels of a similar operation by the French military, however, in which two further pirates were killed, there are fears of a radical backlash.
"Every country will be treated the way it treats us," Abdullahi Lami, one of the pirates holding a Greek ship hostage in the Somali town of Gaan, told the Associated Press. "We will retaliate [for] the killings of our men."
The threats are particularly grave given that around 200 foreign sailors are currently in detention on Somalia's lawless coast.
They are being held by myriad pirate groups - some of whom are suspected of having ties with Al Qaeda-linked militias operating inside the country, which has been wracked by an Iraq-style insurgency since 2006.
And in a sign that the most powerful Islamist outfit, al-Shabaab, is backing the pirates, a US congressman, Donald Payne, cheated death today when mortars rained down on Mogadishu Airport while his plane took off.
The militant group claimed responsibility for the strike, telling AFP: "We carried out mortar attacks against the enemy of Allah who arrived to spread democracy in Somalia. This [interim] government is welcoming America, which is our prime enemy, and we will never stop attacking them."
Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991, when rival warlords overthrew president Siad Barre. According to the UN, the country is currently the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
Photograph © scol22, sxc.hu