French couple still missing but yacht found: Yemen official

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A Yemeni coast guard official on Saturday denied a state news agency report that a French couple who had gone missing in the Gulf of Aden had been found, saying the tourists still remain untraced.

The official, who declined to be named, said the coalition forces operating in international waters had found their yacht but not the husband and wife who reportedly were on round-the-world voyage.

"Coalition forces (operating in international waters) have retrieved the boat but the tourists were not found," said the official, dismissing as "incorrect" an earlier report by the official news agency Saba which reported that the two travellers had been rescued by coalition forces.

Late on Friday, Saba quoted the deputy director of the Gulf of Aden coast guard, Colonel Abdulrahman al-Musa, as saying that "the tourist and his wife were rescued by a special boat belonging to one of the military ships of the friendly coalition forces present in the international waters."

He said the tourists were rescued after they called for help following a technical fault in their yacht.

The French daily Le Parisien has reported that the pair were from the country's southeastern Var region and were on a round-the-world voyage.

The French yacht had arrived on August 19 in Aden and then departed from the southern port on September 4 after the couple visited the city, Musa said, according to Saba report.

The couple's yacht is one of two French vessels gone missing in the Gulf of Aden.

The other vessel, a catamaran, was also found by international authorities on Friday adrift in pirate-infested waters in the Gulf of Aden with no one on board.

A German frigate, responding to a mayday call, discovered the empty catamaran and it was towed to Djibouti where "suspicious marks" on the vessel are to be studied by agents of France's DGSE spy agency, a source close to the probe said.

The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said four people had been on the vessel.

A Yemeni official previously told AFP that two yachts with a total of six French citizens aboard had entered Yemeni territorial waters on August 19 and left September 4.

French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said the crew of the catamaran issued a mayday signal but by the time the German frigate Bayern arrived there was nobody on board.

"Following the alert from the crew, we asked our German partners to send one of their ships taking part in Operation Atalanta," Valero said, referring to the EU anti-piracy mission off Somalia.

The 5,600-ton warship found the yacht, but "no-one was on board and we have no certainty about how many people had been aboard nor what may have become of the crew of the catamaran."

Atalanta spokesman Commander Harrie Harrison told AFP that the operation was "investigating and trying to work out why the yacht was empty.

"The next of kin details are yet to be confirmed, and we're obviously waiting for that confirmation. We're monitoring and doing what we can," he added. The German defence ministry had no further details.

While officials would not speculate on the fate of the missing crew, 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.

© 2011 AFP

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