MOGADISHU Somali security forces clashed with pirates early on Wednesday and freed nine seamen kidnapped on an Indian cargo ship this month, officials said.
The pirates seized the dhow Al Kausar off Somalia's coast, part of a surge of attacks after years without a reported incident.
The kidnappers took the crew onshore in central Galmudug state on Monday and clashed with troops two days later, the territory's minister for ports and sea transport, Burhan Warsame, said.
"We rescued the nine crew and they are healthy and safe," he added.
Hirsi Yusuf Barre, mayor of Galkayo town in the area, said the security forces attacked the gang after it tried to move the hostages into an area controlled by the militant group al Shabaab overnight.
"We sent forces to every corner and blocked all roads," the mayor said.
Isha Thaim, a member of the family in India that owns the cargo dhow, confirmed the reports of the crew being freed, adding they had not had any food for about three days.
"They will be shortly served with food by authorities. The crew will be taken to the port and after all formalities they will be taken to the vessel," Thaim told Reuters by phone from Gujarat.
Somali pirate attacks peaked with 237 in 2012 but then declined steeply after ship owners improved security measures and international naval forces stepped up patrols.
But this month has seen a new wave of attacks, with two ships captured and a third rescued by Indian and Chinese forces after the crew radioed for help and locked themselves in a safe room.
The Al Kausar pirates had said they were trying to force authorities to free some of their comrades imprisoned in India.
(Additional reporting by Nidhi Verma in India; Writing by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Alison Williams)