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EGYPT: Returning fishermen accuse ship owner of stealing the glory

August 27, 2009 |  8:38 am

Babylon0827 Since their return to Egypt earlier this week, many of the 34 fisherman who overpowered Somali pirates to release their ships after four months of captivity have accused Hassan Khalil -- owner of one of the vessels -- of claiming too much glory for himself.

Khalil, who wasn’t aboard the vessel Momtaz 1 when it first departed Egyptian waters, was credited with organizing the rescue plan that freed the fisherman. After ransom talks with the pirates reached a dead end in Somalia, Khalil claims he hired mercenaries and helped the fishermen rise against the pirates At least two pirates were killed. The crew locked up eight other bandits and sailed home for Egypt.

However, many of the fishermen have different views of what happened. "We have always thought about escaping ourselves, but we never set a date for an action because Khalil used to call us and ensure that he will be paying the ransom," Abdel Salam Emara, one of the fishermen said.

"Khalil arrived in Somalia two months after we were captured. He said the pirates wanted $550,000 and that he couldn't afford to pay them that much. He urged us to see a way out, otherwise we will stay in their hands until forever," adds Mahmoud El Fekki, another fisherman.

Emara and El Fekki say that the fishermen decided to carry out the plan themselves and keep the ransom money as a reward in case they returned to Egypt alive. The men claimed this week that Khalil has said he will not pay them for their months in captivity.

Some fishermen also refuted claims that Egyptian authorities had a hand in the rescue. While it is not known what, if any, role Egyptian intelligence may have played, Khalil earlier stated that officials in the country's foreign ministry helped connect him to people in Somalia who helped in arranging the release.

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Hassan Khalil. Credit: Associated Press