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Despite 'repeated' warnings, French family sails into pirate hands

Text by Marie Sophie JOUBERT

Latest update : 2009-04-09

On April 4, Somali pirates kidnapped a French family travelling to Kenya on a yacht. The French Navy said it had given the crew of the Tanit "repeated warnings" to change course before it was too late.

The French navy had warned them several times. Somali waters are not safe – least of all for a family of three sailing on a small yacht. The crew of the Tanit, however, did not heed what the French navy says were “repeated warnings”.


On March 17, a French surveillance ship, the Floreal, first contacted Florent and Chloë Lemaçon, warning them against sailing in the Gulf of Aden.


"They met the crew of the Floreal on March 20 and were strongly advised not to pursue the trip to Kenya, even at great distance from the Somali coast," said army spokesman Christophe Prazuck.


On their family blog, the couple recalled this encounter with the French army with warmth but without taking much heed. “It’s pretty cool to meet French people out at sea, far from home,” they write on their blog. Florent and Chloë Lemaçon, respectively aged 27 and 29 years old, maintained their course to Kenya with their three-year-old son Colin and two friends on board.


On April 4, Somali pirates highjacked the Tanit and took the crew hostage off the coast of Ras Hafun, northeast Somalia.


'Pirates will not shatter our dream'


Captain Prazuck believes taking this amount of risk was irresponsible. "Since they set off, they could not be unaware of the dangers. There are so many websites and media outlets on [Somali piracy],” he said.


On their regularly updated blog, Chloë Lemaçon tells how they once met Carré d’As skipper Jean-Yves Delanne and his wife Bernadette, who were captured by Somali pirates in September 2008. Chloë writes in January that the problem of piracy “has been hyped up these days.” Later, she explains in the blog that they do not want to see pirates shatter their dream of being at one with nature, free from consumerism.


The Floreal was unable to prevent the Tanit from heading towards Kenya and escorted them for a couple of days. “We weren’t going to abandon them,” explains Captain Prazuck.


On March 20, The Floreal left the Tanit as they approached the Bab-el-Mandeb Detroit which marks the entrance of the Indian Ocean. The warship is not authorised to go any further. Its mission is to protect the commercial ships which cross the Gulf of Aden, one of the world’s most strategic routes.


Pirate attacks on the rise


The communication cell of France’s Indian Ocean fleet took over the situation and warned the “Tanit” several times. “The warnings were firm,” says Prazuck.


An email message was sent to the Tanit crew on March 27 stating that sailing to Kenya was "very dangerous" due to a spike in the number of pirate attacks. The email warned them that “the pirates were operating further and further out”.


Francis Lemaçon, the skipper’s father, refuses to believe that his son did not respect the military’s orders. In the French daily Ouest France, he said on Tuesday the couple were “far, out at sea just like the [navy] had asked them.”


“They are experienced sailors and not irresponsible,” he added.


However experienced, their 12.5-meter-long sailing yacht proved to be an easy target. Last November, Somali pirates showed they were capable of taking over the “Sirius Star”, a supertanker transporting some 2,000,000 barrels of crude more than 800 km from the Kenyan coast.


Date created : 2009-04-07