PARAMARIBO, Suriname (AP) — Sixteen fishermen are missing and feared dead after pirates raided their boats off the coast of Suriname and forced them to jump overboard, authorities in the South American country said Monday.

The fishermen were part of a group of 20 in four boats who were attacked off the Atlantic coast of Suriname, said Cmdr. Jerry Slijngard of the Surinamese Coast Guard.

Four men managed to swim to shore and three of them remain hospitalized. They told police and the Coast Guard that the assailants, suspected of coming from neighboring Guyana because of their accents, beat them with machetes and forced them to jump into the sea. They said some of the victims had batteries tied to their legs to weigh them down.

Coast Guard and police vessels, along with members of the Fisheries Collective Association, have searched for the missing men and the pirates since the attack late Friday.

"We are still searching the area with family members of the fishermen, hoping for a miracle," said Mark Lall, president of the Fisheries Collective Association.

Small-scale piracy has long been a fact of life along the largely undeveloped coasts of Suriname and Guyana, which lie on the northeastern shoulder of South America. But this level of violence is rare.

Lall said a captain of a Surinamese vessel was killed by pirates in February when he put up resistance during a robbery.

He called on the government to increase maritime police and Coast Guard patrols and said local fishermen have been too fearful to go out to sea to work since Friday's attack.

"In the past, they used to get away with the catch or with the boat's engine," Lall said. "But now human lives don't count."