Three men who jumped off their ship to escape from Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden have been identified as the vessel's security guards.  But their employer is defending their actions.

The British-based security company AntiPiracy Maritime Security Solutions (APMSS) says the three men were not armed, and fled the Liberian-flagged chemical tanker Biscaglia on Friday only after mounting a "sustained" effort to repel the attackers.

The company's director, Nick Davis, says the guards used a device that can direct painful noise at a target to briefly hold off about five pirates in a speedboat.  He says that gave the Biscaglia's crew time to call for help.  He also says the pirates tried to kill the guards even after they had jumped into the water.

The Biscaglia's crew of about 27 Indians and Bangladeshis are still being held hostage.

After the Biscaglia called for help, a nearby warship sent a helicopter to intervene.  It arrived after pirates seized the ship, but rescued the three guards.

They have since been transferred to a French naval vessel, and are said to be doing well.

Somalia pirates are holding about 15 ships, including a Saudi tanker carrying $100 million worth of oil.  Pirates are demanding $15 million for the tanker.

An international coalition of warships patrols the area off Somalia to prevent hijackings.  

Pirates based in Somalia have made the waters off East Africa some of the most dangerous in the world.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP.