Hijacked yacht under French surveillance

A cruise yacht hijacked off the Somali coast with its 30-member, mainly French crew on board is being tracked by the French military. Somali officials say it has sailed further along the northeast coast, headed for the pirates' lair off Puntland.


 A hijacked French luxury cruise yacht and its 30-member crew on Sunday sailed further south, headed for the pirates' Indian Ocean lair off Puntland, northeast Somalia, a local official said.

"We are getting information that the pirates are now moving towards southern coastal area of Garaad where I believe they will stay," said Abdullahi Said Aw-Yusuf, local government official in the area.

"They are well-armed pirates from Puntland region, so they cannot go far beyond Garaad," he added, explaining that the hijackers cannot go south beyond their lair.

The yacht's owner said on Sunday that its crew were thought to be in unharmed.

"All we know is that they are well, that they are safe and sound," said a spokesman for the French shipping firm CMA-CGM.

But France had still to receive any ransom or other demand from the hijackers -- with authorities playing a waiting game despite activating emergency anti-pirate planning which can involve the mobilisation of elite special forces.

Despite sophisticated surveillance capacities and a helicopter flying over the 32-cabin, four-deck yacht 'The Ponant' on Friday after it was boarded between Somalia and Yemen, communications remained frozen Saturday.

Amphibious assault and other special operations arms of the French navy are available under French anti-pirate emergency planning, as well as the French Gendarmerie's elite maritime hostage rescue unit.

Pirate attacks are frequent off Somalia's 3,700-kilometre (2,300-mile) coastline, prompting the International Maritime Bureau to advise sailors not to venture closer than 200 nautical miles to its shore.

Somalia, which lies at the mouth of the Red Sea on a major trade route between Asia and Europe via the Suez Canal, has not had a functional government since the 1991 ousting of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

The French navy has been called on in recent months to escort World Food Programme boats through Somali waters, after two of the agency's boats were stolen.

The three-masted 850-tonne Ponant, equipped with lounges, bar and restaurant, had been due to host a cruise between Alexandria in Egypt and Valletta in Malta on April 21-22, its Marseille-based owner said.

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