The ordeal began just after 9am, as two ink-black spots on the sea's horizon moved steadily closer. Within minutes, they were in focus - Somali pirates dressed in jeans and sarongs, crowded into speedboats, shouting orders in English as they waved their AK-47s in the air. Over the ensuing 62 days, Mr Lai, an engineer from Hong Kong, would come to know his captors well, sometimes joking with them and sharing food; at other times filled with rage as they pushed their guns in his face. Along with 24 other crewmen, Mr Lai would try to fight off boredom by talking, playing cards, doing anything to wait out the hours as world governments and the ship's owners negotiated with the pirates over a ransom. 'I had seen movies about people who had been taken hostage by pirates, but I just could not believe that I was one of them,' Mr Lai, who is in his 50s, told the South China Morning Post on his first day back in Hong Kong. The job looked like any other: fly to Egypt and board the ship for an 11-day stretch doing repairs on the engine and other equipment. But after passing through the Suez Canal and arriving in the Gulf of Aden off the Somali coast, the ship was hijacked. 'They are wearing jeans and traditional sarongs, speaking Somali and simple English. Everyone was equipped with an AK-47. They looked about 20 to 30 years old,' Mr Lai said. Seven men boarded the ship that morning of September 18, and they would later be joined by about a dozen more. The pirates immediately took control of all the communication equipment - mobile phones, laptops and radios. The ship changed course and began a 30-hour journey to the pirates' base. The first week was the worst. The crew, all Chinese except for a single Sri Lankan, would sometimes break down and cry, not knowing whether they would be killed by the pirates or perhaps gunned down in the crossfire of a rescue attempt. The pirates 'were not so rude and nobody was hurt', Mr Lai said, adding, 'we felt just like prisoners ... We were their hostages for money'. Mr Lai said the 25 crew members, including the captain, were imprisoned in the navigation bridge where they slept on the floor. Their captors received supplies of food and clothes from nearby pirate boats, but meals were limited. 'We had salty vegetables, rice and noodles. We were not hungry but the problem was we did not have enough clean water,' Mr Lai said. They could not bathe or wash their clothes. 'The pirates gave us some clean, new underwear shirts as a gift, and once they shared some barbecue lamb with us.' The crewmen resorted to card games to take their minds off the danger that could come at any moment. But there were also some absurd moments, such as when the crew and their captors would exchange jokes using simple English and body language. Finally, after 63 days, on November 19, the ordeal ended when the owner of ship, Sinotrans Shipping, paid an undisclosed ransom. 'I saw pirates counting bundles of banknotes,' Mr Lai said. 'I felt so helpless and kept asking why governments would do that. What were they doing? How could they just let such pirates plunder carriers like that?' Pirates off Somalia have seized nearly 100 vessels this year, and they appear to be growing more brazen. At least 17 ships are still being held, including a Saudi-owned supertanker carrying 2 million barrels of crude oil, and the Hong Kong-flagged ship, the Delight, along with its 25 crewmen. The United States is currently circulating a draft at the United Nations Security Council, seeking permission to pursue the pirates ashore and into Somali airspace. Beijing is leaving open the possibility of sending in PLA Navy ships to combat piracy in the Gulf of Aden, as Major General Jin Yinan suggested last week.