French military officials captured six pirates who had seized a luxury yacht off the Somali coast. The former hostages, released through the payment of a ransom, are expected back in Paris on Monday. (Report: M. Henbest)
PARIS, April 11 (Reuters) - The 30-strong crew of a luxury
French yacht seized by Somali pirates a week ago were freed
without incident on Friday but French troops later captured half
the pirates, French military officials said.
France sent a warship and special forces to the region after
the pirates seized the three-master in the Gulf of Aden last
Friday and troops were standing by as negotiations to free the
hostages took place on Friday morning.
The pirates had sailed the yacht, the Ponant, to the Somali
coast, eventually mooring the vessel at Garaad, near the town of
Eyl. French officials said earlier this week they believed the
group was holding the crew only for ransom.
After the hostages were released and taken to a French
warship, helicopter-borne troops tracked the pirates who had
landed in Somalia and captured six, Jean-Louis Georgelin, head
of the armed forces general staff, told a news conference.
The six, roughly half the pirate group, were being held
aboard a French warship.
"The president expresses his deep gratitude to the French
armed forces and all the state services which enabled a rapid
and peaceful solution to this hostage-taking," French President
Nicolas Sarkozy's office said in a statement.
Georgelin said no public money had been spent on a ransom
but indicated that the ship's owners had paid a sum, at least
part of which was recovered when the pirates were captured.
The Foreign Ministry said the crew, 22 of whom are French,
would be repatriated as soon as possible.
The Philippine Foreign Ministry said some of the crew were
Filipinos and all were safe.
"We were told the French Navy was escorting the yacht to
safety. We hope the Filipinos could be reunited with their
families by next week," Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Esteban
Conejos told Reuters in Manila.
Piracy is lucrative off lawless Somalia and most kidnappers
treat their captives well in anticipation of a good ransom.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said in a statement
earlier in the day he wanted to see a crackdown on piracy in the
region and a greater involvement of the United Nations.
"The international community must mobilise for a determined
fight against acts of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and off the
Somali coast," he said, adding that France had already escorted
humanitarian shipments headed for Somalia.
French officials had said it might take weeks to secure the
release of the Ponant crew, saying that previous hostage crises
in the region had taken on average 40 days to resolve.
The Ponant is owned by the Compagnie des Iles du Ponant and
was heading from the Seychelles to the Mediterranean Sea when it
was hijacked. It can hold 64 passengers but had no holidaymakers
aboard when the pirates struck.
Date created : 2008-04-12