Somali pirates holding 48 Asian fishermen and their three vessels hostage have sharply reduced their ransom demand during government-brokered negotiations, a Somali human rights activist said Tuesday. The gunmen originally demanded $500,000 for each boat and its crew, but later cut the demand to $50,000 apiece during talks with the Malaysian agent for the Taiwanese trawlers, said Ali Bashi, chairman of the Fanole Human Rights Center. The hostages, who have been held by the pirates near the southern Somali port of Kismayo since Aug. 15, include three Taiwanese captains and 45 crew members from Indonesia, China, the Philippines and Vietnam. The London-based International Maritime Bureau said last month that piracy off Somalia was increasing "at an alarming rate," with 20 incidents reported since March, compared to just two in 2004. Somalia has been without an effective central government since clan-based warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. Warlords then turned on each other, plunging the country of 7 million into chaos. A transitional government raised some hope, but its members quickly split over where the government should be based and whether it needs peacekeepers from neighboring countries to help establish order.