France attempts to free yacht crew from pirates

French authorities attempting to liberate a cruise yacht seized by pirates off the Somali coast have not yet established contact with either the pirates or the 30-member crew on board. (Report: A. Roy)


French authorities have not yet established contact with pirates who seized a luxury cruise yacht off the coast of Somalia Friday, holding its 30-member crew hostage.


French shipping group CMA-CGM, the owners of the “Ponant,” a 32-cabin yacht that was heading for the Mediterranean Sea when it was attacked, said “the majority” of the crew were French. The others, said CMA-CGM officials, were Ukrainian nationals. There were no passengers on board at the time of the attack.


Hours after the attack, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said Paris was working to free the cruise yacht.
“The defence and foreign affairs ministries are working to act as quickly as possible, I hope in the minutes or hours to come, to try to obtain the release of the hostages," said Fillon late Friday.


"We have relatively large military means in the area," he added.


But on Saturday, French Defence Minister Herve Morin said officials had not yet established contact “neither with the crew of the boat nor with the pirates."


‘An act of calculated piracy’


The Ponant was in the Gulf of Aden during the incident. It sailed from the Seychelles and was headed for the Mediterranean Sea, from where it would have undertaken a cruise between Egypt and Malta. The triple-masted boat was “a victim of piracy during the early afternoon as it was sailing between Somalia and Yemen,“ declared French Defense Ministry spokesman Christophe Prazuck.


Calling it “an act of calculated piracy,” Fillon said France had the “military means in this relatively important zone. We are doing what we can to liberate the hostages as soon as possible, hopefully in the next few hours.”


On Friday, Morin said a helicopter “went to verify the situation and stated that it was an incident of piracy as indicated by the ship’s captain. The vessel is now being followed by an Aviso naval ship.”


The French government has initiated the “sea pirate plan”, that organises the “mobilisation of all resources available in the area”, the Prime Minister’s office specified.


One of the most dangerous seas in the world


Piracy has been on the rise in the coastal waters off the Horn of Africa in recent years as cartels of organised pirates in Somalia have been taking advantage of the chaos that has reigned in the country for more than 20 years.


“It is one of the most dangerous seas in the world in terms of piracy,” said Emmanuel Goujon, FRANCE 24 correspondent in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. “There have been more than 25 incidents.”


“It’s a powerful sea mafia,” says Olivier Hallaoui from French maritime security company Secopex. “They have GPS systems, modern means of communication and heavy weapons.” However, according to Prazuck, no shots were fired during the attack on the Ponant.

With acts of piracy on the increase in Somali waters, the International Maritime Office that manages the Anti-piracy Centre in Kuala-Lumpur has recommended ships to stay at least 200 nautical miles (370km) away from the coast.


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