A French hostage was killed and four were freed during an operation by French forces to liberate two couples and a baby that had been seized in their yacht off the Somalian coast, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a statement on Friday.
Two pirates were also killed in the military operation, gunned down by French snipers. An additional three were captured.
The sailing boat Tanit, a 12.5m (41ft) vessel carrying two couples and a three-year-old child, was seized on April 4 in the deep waters of the Indian Ocean, far off the Somalian coast. Its owners, Florent and Chloe Lemaçon, 27 and 29, had ignored repeated warnings from the French navy not to sail through that route on their way to Somalia.
French navy commandos succeeded in freeing Chloe Lemaçon and her young son Colin, as well as the friends who were travelling with them. Florent Lemaçon, held alone in the center of the ship, was shot dead, although it is unclear whether he was executed by pirates or caught in crossfire.
French Defense Minister Hervé Morin explained in a press conference that the operation was launched when it became apparent, thanks to the navy’s spyware devices, that the pirates were becoming more menacing towards the hostages. “It was imperative to act, and our commandos had orders to launch an operation when at least three pirates were visible on deck. Once this was the case, French snipers shot down the three visible pirates, while commandos simultaneously reached Chloë Lemaçon and her son Colin, at the back of the ship, and the couple of friends at the front.
France has taken a leading role in international efforts to halt rampant sea hijackings off Somalia. Its forces have captured at least 60 pirates since April 2008, and brought several of them back to Paris for trial. Interviewed by FRANCE 24, Canadian journalist Daniel Sekulich, author of the book 'Terror in the seas', explains that “although paying ransoms emboldens pirates, this kind of operation always carries a risk of casualties”. He believes effectively fighting piracy requires more cooperation between the different nationalities present in the Gulf of Aden.
A statement from Sarkozy’s office said that the French navy had established contact with the Tanit pirates on Thursday, and had decided to launch a rescue operation after the gang refused to accept their terms and tried to sail back to Somalia. “France has a consistent policy of refusing acts of piracy and preventing its nationals from being taken back to land as hostages,” said the statement.
The Lemaçons had been at sea since leaving France last July, writing about their experiences in a blog (http://tanit.over-blog.fr). In one post, they mentioned the threat posed by pirates but minimized it: “The danger exists but the ocean remains huge,” they wrote, “the pirates must not destroy our dream”.