Hijacked French crew were warned about pirates
Officials said the French couple with their three-year-old son, along with another couple, were warned repeatedly about the risks they face by sailing off the Somali coast.PARIS – A French couple who set sail for Zanzibar with their three-year-old son were repeatedly warned to avoid the Somali coast before their boat was hijacked, officials said Tuesday.
Chloe and Florent Lemacon had left France in July 2008 with their son Colin, then two years old, aboard the 12.5 metre Tanit and picked up another couple along the way.
"The crew was repeatedly warned by French authorities of the risks they were facing by sailing off the Somali coast, especially with a smaller sail boat," said foreign ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier.
"It is difficult to understand why these warnings were not heeded," he said.
The boat had left Vannes on France's Atlantic coast en route to the Indian Ocean archipelago of Zanzibar.
Writing on their Internet blog two weeks before the hijacking, the Lemacon couple said they had started sailing with the lights off to avoid detection.
"We are in the middle of the piracy zone, but so far there is nothing to report."
"The danger is there and has indeed become greater over the past months, but the ocean is vast. The pirates must not be allowed to destroy our dream," they wrote.
The piracy monitoring group Ecoterra International said the hijacking took place some 640 kilometres off the coast of Ras Hafun, northeast Somalia.
The French navy had strongly advised the Tanit's crew against travelling to Kenya and warned them of the serious risk posed by pirates in the waters off the coast of Somalia, an army spokesman said.
"They met the crew of the Floreal (surveillance ship) on 20 March and were strongly advised not to pursue the trip to Kenya, even at great distance from the Somali coast," said army spokesman Christophe Prazuck.
An email message was sent to the Tanit crew on 27 March stating that sailing to Kenya was "very dangerous" due to a spike in the number of pirate attacks.
Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner confirmed earlier that authorities had pinpointed the location of the hijacked yacht.
"Yes, we know where they are," Kouchner told RTL radio.
"I can't give you details and even if I had them, I would not give them because this anti-piracy operation initiated by France now involves several countries."
France launched a rescue operation to free another French luxury yacht, Le Ponant, and its 30 crew in April last year, and in September dispatched commandos to release a French couple seized by pirates aboard their yacht.
"These boats are attacked far from the shores, very far out, and that obviously does not help the European Atalanta operation," Kouchner said.
The European Union launched its first-ever naval operation codenamed Atalanta in December, deploying six warships and three surveillance planes to patrol pirate-infested seas in the Horn of Africa.
AFP / Expatica