Somali pirates were paid $4 million in ransom to release a hijacked Chinese cargo ship carrying coal and 25 sailors who had been in captivity for two months, a self-proclaimed pirate said Monday.

The EU Naval Force said the bulk carrier De Xin Hai was released outside of Hobyo, Somalia, on Sunday. The crew and ship are in good condition, the force said.

China's official Xinhua News Agency said the ship and crew were now under the protection of a Chinese naval fleet after an early morning rescue. It did not give further details about the rescue.

The De Xin Hai was the first Chinese vessel to be hijacked since China deployed a three-ship squadron to the Gulf of Aden last year, joining Britain, India, Iran, the U.S., France and other countries in anti-piracy patrols.

De Xin Hai, owned by Qingdao Ocean Shipping Co., Ltd., was carrying about 76,000 tons of coal from South Africa to India when it was seized Oct. 19 about 700 miles east of the Somali coastline.

Pirate attacks in the area nearly doubled in 2009 over a year earlier, despite the deployment in December 2008 of the European Union Naval Force — the first international force specifically to counter Somali pirates.

A Somali man who said he was a pirate told The Associated Press that pirates were paid $4 million to release the ship and crew.

"We have been given the ransom money, checked it, counted it and shared it among ourselves," said the self-proclaimed pirate, who gave his name as Ahmed Afweyne.

Somali pirates have been paid more than $100 million in ransom over the last two years.

After the release of the Chinese vessel, Somali pirates hold eight vessels and 213 crew, the EU Naval Force said.