French forces rescue hostages held by pirates
French commandos freed a French couple who was taken hostage by Somali pirates two weeks ago.16 September 2008
PARIS -- French commandos have freed a French couple taken hostage by Somali pirates two weeks ago, said President Nicolas Sarkozy on Tuesday.
Sarkozy said he ordered the special forces assault which took place late Monday to send a clear "warning" to "this industry of crime".
Thirty commandos killed one pirate and detained six others in an operation lasting less than 10 minutes to free Jean-Yves Delanne and his wife Bernadette, both 60, Sarkozy told a press conference.
A French warship backed the commandos in the operation at sea outside Somali waters. The rescue operation is the second such mission in 2008.
The six captured men were to be transferred to France, which is already holding six Somalis seized in a commando operation in April.
The French leader said the assault was a "warning" to pirates plaguing the Somali coastline, the world's most dangerous waters for merchant ships, fishing fleets and pleasure yachts alike.
The hijackers captured the Delanne couple in their yacht, the Carre d'As, on 2 September, and were reportedly demanding a ransom of more than USD 1 million (EUR 700,000), as well as the release of their six compatriots who were captured earlier this year.
Sailing enthusiasts based in Tahiti, the couple were on their way from Australia to France when they were attacked.
Sarkozy said both were safe on the French warship, the Courbet, and that their yacht was being taken to Djibouti.
"This is a huge relief. All we can say is thank you, thank you so much," their daughter Alizee told French radio.
French commandos staged a raid on April 11 to release a French luxury yacht, Le Ponant, and its 30 crew.
The French president said he ordered the new operation after it became clear the pirates were heading for their coastal base in the town of Eyl, in Somalia's northeastern semi-autonomous Puntland region.
"France will not allow crime to pay," Sarkozy said. "This operation is a warning to all those who indulge in this criminal activity. This is a call for the mobilisation of the international community."
He thanked Germany and Malaysia for their help with the operation, which he said took place outside Somalia's territorial waters, without giving further details.
The authorities in Puntland welcomed the French move.
"The state of Puntland encourages such steps and calls on other governments whose nationals are being held to do the same thing," Puntland presidential adviser Bille Mohamoud Qabowsade said.
Since July, 12 ships have been hijacked in the narrow waterway separating Yemen and Somalia by pirates operating high-powered speedboats, according to the International Maritime Bureau. Eleven are still being held for ransom.
Two rockets were fired at a French tuna fishing boat some 700 kilometres off Somalia on Saturday, in a sign the pirates are moving further out to sea to evade military patrols in coastal shipping areas.
In recent months, a multinational taskforce based in Djibouti has been patrolling parts of the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, where a pirate mothership is believed to be operating.
France and Spain called in July for the creation of an international force to tackle piracy in the region.
The UN Security Council in June adopted a resolution authorising foreign warships to enter Somalia's territorial waters with the government's consent to combat pirates, though it has yet to be implemented.
European foreign ministers agreed Monday to set up a special unit to coordinate the fight against piracy off Somalia, raising the possibility of an EU naval mission to the region.
[AFP / Expatica]