Six suspected Somali pirates brought to France by elite counter-terrorism officers after a luxury yacht was seized off the coast of Somalia were charged by a Paris court on Friday with taking the ship's crew hostage.
Six Somali men involved in attacking a French yacht and holding its 30 crew hostage for a week appeared before a judge on Friday to placed under formal investigation, a court source said.
French troops captured the men in the Somali desert on April 11 as they were fleeing with $200,000, part of the ransom paid by the owners of the Ponant luxury yacht.
The six were part of a larger group of pirates who carried out the attack and hostage taking. The total ransom paid was $2 million, but the other pirates made off with the rest of the money.
The six, who were flown to France by military plane on Wednesday, will face charges including boat hijacking, kidnap, illegal confinement and demanding ransom as part of an organised gang, which carry a maximum life sentence.
After Friday's formalities, investigations are likely to last several years before a criminal trial takes place.
In early questioning, the men told French police they were part of a well-organised maritime militia based in the village of Garaad-Ade in the northern province of Puntland.
Police found the militia's "manual of good conduct" on board the luxury yacht. The document banned mistreatment of hostages, notably sexual abuse, according to the judicial source.
Piracy is big business off the coast of Somalia and ransom seekers usually treat their captives well in the hope of getting good money for them.
According to their initial statements to police, two of the men took part in the April 4 raid on the yacht, three others were part of the armed guard that watched over the hostages, and one was their driver when they returned to land.
The men are aged between 25 and 40.
Date created : 2008-04-18