Crew members of a North Korean cargo vessel on Tuesday overpowered Somali pirates and violently regained control of the freighter captured off Mogadishu port, elders and a maritime official said.
The 22-strong crew of the MV Dia Honga Dan overpowered armed pirates who had seized it overnight Monday and were demanding thousands of dollars in ransom, they said.
The pirates who had seized the boat were members of a Somali clan who were meant to be guarding it, said officials in Mogadishu.
"The crew members have taken control of the ship after defeating the eight men who hijacked it last night," said Dahir Hassan, an elder in the Somali port of Haradere, explaining that the crew had managed to reach their weapons.
"There are casualties, but we are not sure the exact number of dead or injured," he added.
"Now the ship is out there and some government forces and businessmen from Mogadishu have been dispatched to the area," he added.
Andrew Mwangura, head of the Kenya chapter of the Seafarers' Assistance Programme, confirmed the release of the freighter, which had been contracted by Mogadishu traders to deliver general cargo.
"We have information that ship has been rescued. The crew overpowered the pirates," Mwangura, who monitors maritime transport, told AFP from the port town of Mombasa. "But we are yet to get more information."
"The ship was hijacked by security men who were on board and were supposed to be protecting it. The reason for the hijacking is unclear," a Mogadishu port official said, asking not to be named.
African Union peacekeepers, who are charged with protecting the port, said the vessel was outside their operation area.
"It was far away from the seaport, it was at the anchorage. The hijacking was masterminded by the same people who were supposed to bring it into the docking," Captain Paddy Ankunda told AFP.
Ankunda said the militiamen were asking for 15,000 dollars to free the freighter that arrived in Mogadishu 10 days ago and had already unloaded its cargo.
The incident was the second piracy attack off Somalia's 3,700 kilometre (2,300 miles) coastline in recent days.
On Sunday, a Japanese chemical tanker with 23 Korean, Filipino and Myanmar crew on board was hijacked off the coast of northern Somalia. The fate of that ship and its crew remains unknown.
Rampant piracy attacks off Somalia's vast and unpatrolled coastline stopped in the second half of 2006 during six months of strict rule by Islamists, who were ousted by Ethiopian and Somali government troops at the end of the year.
Somalia, which lies at the mouth of the Red Sea, has been without an effective government since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre sparked a bloody power struggle.
Repeated calls by the country's weak government for the United States and other foreign nations to deploy naval vessels to patrol the coastline has gone unheeded.
The US, which has a navy base in the Horn of Africa, has been loathe to involve itself in Somalia since 1993 when 18 US Marines were killed in a bloody day-long battle with heavily armed militiamen.
The experience resulted in Washington's withdrawal from the country but US interest in Somalia has since surged due to concerns about a rise in Islamic extremism in the country.