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Egyptian fishermen net their limit of pirates

34 fishermen who had been kidnapped near the Gulf of Aden overpower their captors and are now sailing home with 8 marauders in their hold, destined for police.

August 16, 2009|Jeffrey Fleishman and Amro Hassan

CAIRO — Talk about pirate booty.

In a dramatic shift of fortunes on the high seas, 34 Egyptian fishermen taken hostage by Somali pirates four months ago overpowered their captors and were sailing home Saturday with eight marauders locked up in a room and ready to be delivered to police.

It's usually the pirates who get away with bragging rights and ransoms, but the fishermen, whose two vessels had been seized in the notorious waters around the Gulf of Aden, were steaming toward the Egyptian coast with an impressive haul.

Egyptian Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmed Rizq said in a statement that the crews from both ships "have safely entered the Red Sea waters on their way home with all 34 fishermen on board, along with eight Somali pirates."

Al Jazeera news channel reported that the fishermen "declined to be airlifted as they have said it will be fitting if they can sail home."

The fishermen attacked their captors Friday with machetes, tools and the pirates' own guns. There were conflicting accounts of how many pirates were killed, though news reports said seven bodies, believed to have been pirates, have washed up on Somali beaches. There were also reports that several turncoat pirates may have helped in the escape.

One of the ship's owners, Hassan Khalil, whose two sons were among the captives, traveled to Sudan to negotiate a ransom after the Egyptian Foreign Ministry's attempts to free the fishermen failed. Egyptian news reports said the pirates were seeking $800,000 to release the vessels and $200,000 to free Khalil's sons. Other accounts suggested that the bandits had demanded $1.5 million and that negotiations had broken down Wednesday.

One of Khalil's sons, Hamad, told the Egyptian daily Al Masry Al Youm in a phone interview that the pirates had treated them harshly.

"We almost lost any hope of being released, especially after we heard that the money raised by our families and other donors wasn't enough to pay the pirates. Many fishermen were in a horrible mental state," he said. "Our dad's decision to come and negotiate the ransom himself brought us back to life."

The shipping lanes and the fisheries in the Gulf of Aden off Yemen and Somalia have become treacherous, plied by well-armed pirates in small, swift boats.

In April, U.S. Navy snipers killed three pirates and freed the American captain of a cargo ship off East Africa.

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jeffrey.fleishman@latimes.com

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