Hostage killed as French troops take yacht from pirates

11th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

The dead man was the owner of the yacht and father of a three-year -old child who had been among the five French hostages.

Paris -- French special forces stormed a yacht taken over by Somali pirates, but one of the hostages and two pirates were killed in the operation, officials said.

The operation was launched after talks to end the six-day old hostage drama broke down. The dead man was the owner of the yacht and father of a three-year -old child who had been among the five French hostages.

The child and three other adults on the yacht, the Tanit, were all safe, officials said.

"Today (Friday) with the threats becoming more and more specific, the pirates refusing the offers made to them and the Tanit heading towards the coast, a operation to free the hostages was decided upon," said a spokesman for President Nicolas Sarkozy.

"During the operation, an hostage was unfortunately killed. The four others -- including the child -- are safe and sound. Two pirates were killed, the three others were captured," said the spokesman.

Defence Minister Herve Morin named the dead man as Florent Lemacon, the owner of the yacht. He was hit during an exchange of fire between the pirates and French forces, said Morin. An investigation has been launched into the death.

French troops immobilised the yacht on Thursday by firing into the sails, said Morin.

Negotiators had done everything they could to reach an agreement with the pirates, he said. "We even offered them a ransom."

French commandos had also offered to send one of their officers over as a hostage if the child and her mother were freed, but this too was refused by the pirates, said Morin.

"All these things were permanently and constantly refused."

The Tanit, with four adults and the child on board, was captured in the Gulf of Aden on Saturday.

French chief of defence staff General Jean-Louis Georgelin said Lemacon died in crossfire between the pirates and the elite troops when they "went down into the cabins," adding that the pirates were using Kalashnikov assault rifles.

"Three pirates visible on the deck were neutralised," he said. "Two of them died instantaneously and the third fell into the water."

The Lemacons, who had set sail for Zanzibar with their son had repeatedly been warned to avoid the Somali coast before their boat was hijacked, French officials said.

Chloe and Florent Lemacon had left France in July last year with their son Colin, then two years old, aboard the 12.5 metre (42-feet) yacht 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 Lemacons 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 (400 miles) off the coast of Ras Hafun, northeast Somalia.


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