Twelve hours later, they sailed south together. Several of the ships docked at Pemba, where humanitarian workers say thousands of people who were displaced by the ambush were receiving aid on Sunday.

A passenger ferry that usually operates along the coast of neighboring Tanzania also docked in Palma on Saturday and arrived in Pemba the following day, according to ship-tracking data, satellite imagery and photographs shared on social media. Local sailors on traditional wooden sailing boats, known as dhows, also carried some displaced people to Pemba, according to humanitarian workers.

While some of the fleet’s efforts were successful, other boats that attempted to come ashore to rescue people were forced to pull back when militants opened fire with small arms and mortars, according to American officials. At least one American citizen was at the gas project site near Palma during the attack, but was safely evacuated to Pemba, according to a U.S. official.

On Sunday morning, Mozambique Special Forces units launched an operation to reclaim the town. But by Sunday night, militants still held much of Palma, including the harbor, the officials said.

One British citizen who was part of the convoy who worked at RA International, a contracting company headquartered in Dubai, was missing as of Sunday night, according to an executive at the company.

At least one South African, Adrian Nel, 40, was killed in the ambush on the convoy.

Mr. Nel had been in Palma working at his family’s construction consulting company alongside his brother Wesley Nel, 37, and their stepfather, Gregory Knox, 55, who were also caught in the ambush. The two men managed to escape to the nearby forest and hid until private security contractors evacuated them by helicopter the following morning.

“They spent the night in the bush, with Adrian’s body,” Mr. Nel’s mother, Meryl Knox, 59, said in an interview. Ms. Knox spoke with her husband on Wednesday as the attack unfolded and the private security contractors who rescued the men by helicopter on Saturday.

“The insurgents had surrounded the hotel and there was no help from the Mozambican army,” Ms. Knox said. “These guys were just left on their own.”

Christina Goldbaum reported from Johannesburg, South Africa. Eric Schmitt reported from Washington, D.C. Declan Walsh reported from Nairobi, Kenya.

Lynsey Chutel contributed reporting from Johannesburg, South Africa. John Ismay contributed reporting from Washington, D.C. Charles Mangwiro contributed reporting from Maputo, Mozambique. Haley Willis, Christiaan Triebert and Malachy Browne contributed reporting from New York.

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