MOGADISHU, Somalia — The crew of two Egyptian fishing vessels overpowered Somali pirates after being held hostage for four months and, with machetes and tools, killed at least two pirates before sailing to freedom, a pirate and businessmen said Friday.
The case marked a rare instance of crewmen fighting back against Somali pirates, who usually hold their hostages for months in anticipation of million-dollar ransoms.
One pirate was in custody after local fishermen found him near shore with machete wounds, police said.
A top manager of the Yemeni fishing company that hired the vessels, the Ahmed Samara and Momtaz 1, said the crew may have been helped by gunmen the pirates hired to help watch over the boat.
A pirate who told The Associated Press he escaped the ordeal said the fight Thursday took place near the coastal town of Las Qorey off the Gulf of Aden, one of the world's busiest waterways and where Somali pirates carry out most of their attacks.
"They attacked us with machetes and other tools, seized some of our guns and then fought with us," the pirate, who gave only his nom de guerre, Miraa, told the AP in a telephone interview. "I could see two dead bodies of my colleagues lying on the ship. I do not know the fate of the nine others."
Mohamed Alnahdi, the executive manager of Mashrq Marine Product, which hired both boats, said the crew told the owner of one of the boats that some of the gunmen on board collaborated with them.
Alnahdi, speaking on the phone from the northern Somalia port town of Bossaso, said he had been in the country for 35 days to negotiate the release of the ships. Negotiations broke down on Thursday when he and the pirates disagreed on whether they should be paid a ransom or reimbursed for the cost of supplies during the four months they held the vessels.
The pirates were demanding a ransom of $1.5 million, he said.
"We told them (the pirates) that we don't have more than the US$200,000 to pay them to recoup costs incurred during the past four months they have been holding the boats. But they rejected it," Alnahdi told The Associated Press.
"We don't pay ransom. It is forbidden in Islam," he said.
Alnahdi, whose company is based in Makalla, Yemen, said the crews coordinated their action to overpower the pirates on both boats at the same time. He said he did not have any other details of how the crews escaped from their captors.
The ships are now on their way to Yemen, and the Egyptian fishermen will make their way home via plane later Friday, Mohammad Nasr, the owner of the Ahmed Samara, said. Four pirates will be handed over to Yemeni authorities, he said.
The most prominent case of a hijacked crew fighting back pirates was in April when an American crew fought their Somali captors until their crew's captain offered himself as a hostage in a bid to save their lives.
The captain was later released after U.S. navy snipers shot his captors and captured one of them.
Pirate attacks worldwide more than doubled in the first half of 2009 amid a surge of raids on vessels in the Gulf of Aden and the east coast of Somalia, according to an international maritime watchdog. The attacks come despite international patrols, including U.S., European, Chinese, Russian and Indian ships.
The higher attacks worldwide were due mainly to increased Somali pirate activity off the Gulf of Aden and east coast of Somalia, which combined accounts for 130 of the ca4ses.
Somalia has not had an effective government since the 1991 overthrow of a dictatorship plunged the country into chaos. Besides frequent land battles, the power vacuum has also allowed pirates to operate freely around Somalia's 1,900-mile (3,060-kilometer) coastline.
In June, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment that would require the Department of Defense to put armed teams on U.S.-flagged ships passing through high-risk waters, specifically around the Horn of Africa where Somali pirates have become a scourge.
The amendment now goes to the Senate. But U.S. military resources are spread thin and onboard weapons, especially in the hands of civilian crew, are seen as an extreme option.
The laws of many nations prevent vessels from carrying weapons, historically for fear they would be used by mutineers.
Associated Press writers Malkhadir M. Muhumed in Nairobi, Kenya and Hadeel al-Shalchi in Cairo contributed to this report.