Thirty-four members of two Egyptian fishing boats returned to a hero’s welcome in Suez on Sunday after being held captive by Somali pirates for four months. Their arrival came nine days after they overpowered their captives and regained control of the boats, captured while in the dangerous waters of the Gulf of Aden.
Precisely how the Egyptians accomplished the feat is something of a mystery. Almost all of the fishermen told reporters a different story. Adel Abdel-Atti said there was a 35-minute fistfight before the Egyptians overwhelmed their captors. Osama Watan said they attacked while the pirates were resting. “One of us who delivered their lunch signalled to us when they had laid down their weapons,” he told AP. “That’s when we knew it was time to either attack or be killed.” But perhaps the best explanation cames from one of the ship’s owners, Mohammad Nasr, who said that the other owner, Hassan Khalil, hired his own gang of Somali gunmen. Nasr went on to state that after paying a US$200,000 down payment, Khalil conned his way onto his own ship and got the fishermen to distract the pirates while his mercenaries boarded and retook the vessels.
While Khalil denied he hired gunmen, everyone could agree that the captivity was brutal. “They starved us and dealt with us rudely,” stated El-Shahat Ragab. “They beat us.” And while the Egyptians were able to bring back captives of their own, namely eight Somali pirates, the dangers posed by such lawless brigands isn’t over. A pirate named Farrah told Reuters that fully seven bodies had been found in the ocean—not the two the crewmen said were killed—and threatened retribution: “We used to treat the Egyptians better than other hostages, but if we capture more of them we shall get our revenge.”