August 23, 2009 / 4:17 PM / 8 years ago

Egyptian fishermen return after escaping pirates

<p>Egyptian fisherman, who were held captives by Somali pirates, are greeted by relatives and friends as they arrive in the port of Suez, August 23, 2009.Asmaa Waguih (EGYPT CRIME LAW)</p>

SUEZ, Egypt (Reuters) - Egyptian fishermen who escaped Somali pirates this month received a raucous reception when they sailed into port at the southern end of the Suez Canal on Sunday.

Family, friends, well-wishers and officials were on hand to greet the 34 men on their return after their two fishing vessels, the Momtaz 1 and Samara Ahmed, were hijacked in April.

The men overpowered their armed captors on August 13 and fled in the two vessels, bringing eight pirates with them. At least seven dead pirates were found in the sea by their colleagues afterwards, an associate of the pirates has said.

Egyptian security met the returning vessels at sea and took the eight captive pirates to an undisclosed location for questioning, Egyptian security sources said without elaborating.

The returning fishermen said the pirates had asked for a ransom of $5 million for their release. Gunmen from Somalia have made tens of millions of dollars in ransoms from attacks in the strategic Gulf of Aden.

One fisherman, El-Shahat Ragab, pushed through crowds on the dock searching for his mother, who wept as they were reunited.

<p>Egyptian fishermen, who were held by Somali pirates, wave to relatives and friends as they arrive in the port of Suez, August 23, 2009.Asmaa Waguih</p>

"They starved us and dealt with us rudely. They beat us and scorned us," Ragab said of the pirates.

Another of the fishermen told journalists how pirates had used diminishing drinking water to bathe and constantly threatened to set fire to the boats with the fishermen onboard.

<p>An Egyptian fishermen, who was held captive by Somali pirates, embraces his wife after arriving in the port of Suez, August 23, 2009.Asmaa Waguih</p>

"Thanks be to God, the two ships tried to co-operate with each other and we were protected by God," said El-Sayyed Sobhi, another member of the crew.

An associate of the pirates earlier told Reuters the Egyptians had escaped after seizing his colleagues' weapons and said at the time that two pirates were killed in a shoot-out.

The associate, who gave his name as Farah when he spoke in mid-August, said the team that was overpowered was new and had replaced the gunmen who initially hijacked the Egyptian vessels.

Adel Abdel-Atti, another of the Egyptian fishermen, said the crew overpowered the pirates in a 35-minute fistfight, prevailing due to the larger number of fisherman. He did not say what happened to the weapons.

Economists have been watching traffic through the Suez Canal to see if it is hurt by piracy to the south but they also say the effect of a world downturn is the main reason for a slide in shipping and revenues in recent months.

Reporting by Yusri Mohamed and Reuters Television; writing by Alastair Sharp; editing by Robin Pomeroy

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