Deadly Yemen catamaran raid 'pirates' sent to France: source

14th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

Seven men detained by a Spanish warship after they allegedly attacked a French catamaran off Yemen and killed its skipper have been sent to France to face justice, a judicial official said Wednesday.

A Paris investigating magistrate will consider bringing charges against the seven who were arrested on Saturday after troops from the warship boarded their skiff and freed the dead skipper's wife, the officials said.

The investigation into the killing is being led by the unit charged with organised crime.

A German warship had found the yacht the Tribal Kat belonging to French couple Christian and Evelyne Colombo adrift off Yemen on Thursday after it broadcast a mayday appeal for help.

There were signs of struggle, including bullet holes and blood stains, and no one was on board, prompting commanders from the EU's anti-piracy naval task force Atalanta to launch an air and sea search for the attackers.

The Spanish warship Galicia chased down a suspicious skiff, stormed it, rescued Evelyne Colombo and arrested the seven alleged pirates.

The couple's family was later informed that the 55-year-old captain had been killed during the initial attack and his body thrown overboard.

Christian Colombo was a former French navy crewman and he and his wife experienced sailors who wanted to see the world and were passing through the Gulf of Aden en route for the Indian Ocean and eventually Thailand.

The waters between Yemen and Somalia are notorious for attacks by pirate gangs, and French yachts have been among the vessels seized in the past. A second yacht went missing at around the same time as the Tribal Kat.

Somali pirates frequently seize crew from merchant ships and pleasure craft in the dangerous waters off the conflict-ravaged Horn of Africa and have taken millions of dollars in ransom for their release.

According to the watchdog Ecoterra, at least 50 vessels and at least 528 hostages are being held by Somali pirates, despite constant patrols by warships from several world powers.

A total of 15 alleged pirates suspected of storming French ships are being held in French prisons.

The trial opens in November at a Paris juvenile court of six Somalis accused of taking a French couple hostage aboard the Carre d'As yacht in September 2008 in the Gulf of Aden.

A ransom was paid, but French commandos later ambushed the pirates, killed one, captured the six and recovered the cash.

In April 2009, another French yacht was seized but boarded by special forces troops who intervened when the boat was still at sea. In the ensuing gunbattle a French bullet accidentally killed the skipper of the yacht.

Most suspected pirates arrested in the Indian Ocean are handed over to authorities in Kenya, the first country to have agreed to try pirates caught outside its own territorial waters.

© 2011 AFP

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