France in contact with pirates on yacht

7th April 2008, Comments 0 comments

France said it had made contact with pirates holding a luxury French cruise yacht with around 30 crew off the coast of Somalia.

   PARIS, April 7, 2008 - France said it had made contact with pirates
holding a luxury French cruise yacht with around 30 crew off the coast of
Somalia, with the vessel reported to have anchored Sunday evening.
   "We've made contact and the matter could last a long time," Foreign
Minister Bernard Kouchner told the radio station France Inter. "Our contact
needs to be fruitful and we have to do everything to avoid bloodshed."
   He did not rule out the payment of a ransom to secure the release of the
crew -- 22 French nationals and around 10 Ukrainians.
   The boat anchored off the northeastern Somali region of Puntland on Sunday
evening, a French military source said later, on condition of anonymity.
   The source said it was not clear if this was in a location controlled by
the pirates or whether it was likely to set off again, and could not give
details of contact with the pirates.
   French Defence Minister Herve Morin earlier said there could be no military
intervention unless the safety of the crew could be guaranteed.
   Any order to launch a military operation "cannot be taken unless there is
certainty that this will happen in secure conditions that preserve the
integrity of the crew," he said.
   Somali officials said the 32-cabin yacht, the Ponant, was seized on Friday.
A dozen pirates stayed on board and took the boat more than 400 kilometres
(250 miles) south, along the Somali coast.
   An official of semi-autonomous Puntland, Abdullahi Said Aw-Yusuf, said he
believed the pirates would not move far away.
   "They are well-armed pirates from Puntland region, so they cannot go far
beyond Garaad (bordering Puntland)," he said.
   The company that owns the yacht said on Sunday that its crew were thought
to be unharmed. "They are safe and sound," said a spokesman for the French
shipping firm CMA-CGM.
   The father of one crew member, Thibaut Garrec, 20, called on the French
state to "use its diplomatic levers" to secure their safe release.
   "If that means paying a ransom, then let's find a way, but we have to free
them," said Ronan Garrec.
   Photographs in French media showed pirates on the bridge of the Ponant and
on two zodiac boats being towed by it.
   Pirate attacks are frequent off Somalia's 3,700-kilometre (2,300-mile)
coastline. The International Maritime Bureau advises sailors not to venture
within 200 nautical miles of its shore.
   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 vessels were
   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.
   Garrec's mother Valerie said her son telephoned on Wednesday to tell her he
was entering dangerous waters.
   "He told us he was in a pirate zone. We thought that sounded dangerous. But
we had no idea we would be getting a call two days later to say he was taken
   Somali pirates usually demand a ransom once the ship has reached a port. In
mid-March, a Russian tug boat and six crew members were released for 700,000
thousand dollars (450,000 euros) after being held captive for six weeks.
   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 functioning
government since the 1991 ousting of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.
   It has since been ravaged by civil war, carved up between warlords. The
transitional government controls little of the country and often clashes with
Islamist militias that the United States has accused of links to Al Qaeda.


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