A Palestinian fisherman sits on his boat in the port in Gaza City on July 6, 2014. Israel decided on July 6, 2014 to reduce the fishing zone open for Gaza fishermen from 6 nautical miles to 3 (5.6 km).
MOGADISHU - Four Iranian fishermen have been freed in Somalia after security forces rescued them from a pirate gang, security officials said on Thursday.
Local elder Mohamed Moalim Abdirahman said the men appeared "healthy" despite their ordeal, but that the pirate gang still held as many as nine other hostages, all believed to be from Iran.
"Security forces rescued four Iranians who have been held hostage by pirates," said Abdirahman Mohamed, a security official in central Somalia&39;s Galgadud region.
"Two of the kidnapers were arrested during the raid on a house where they held the victims," Mohamed added.
It was not immediately clear when the crew were seized by pirates, or which vessel they came from.
Piracy peaked in 2011, when Somali pirates held over 700 hostages, but rates of attacks have tumbled, prompted partly by the posting of armed guards on boats and navy patrols.
Two Iranian fishing boats were seized in March near Ceel Hur in central Somalia, but one boat escaped in August -- although it was not clear if all the crew were freed at that time.
In May, an Iranian fishing boat and its crew were taken hostage after entering the small port of El-Dheer in Galgadud for repairs.
Experts have warned that rampant illegal fishing by foreign trawlers off Somalia is threatening economic gains, and could push communities back to maritime crime.
A September report by Secure Fisheries, a part of the One Earth Future Foundation campaign group, warned those advances could be reversed if illegal fishing is not stemmed.
While illegal fishing was used by many pirates as an excuse for attacks -- which saw an array of vessels seized including yachts, oil tankers and container ships -- the issue could encourage a fresh round of piracy.
The government in Somalia&39;s northern Puntland region has seized several boats in recent months they accuse of illegal fishing.