Pirates take French yacht crew hostage off Somalia

Pirates boarded a French luxury cruise yacht off the coast of Somalia and took its entire 30-member crew hostage on Friday, the French military and the ship’s owner said.

The 32-cabin, four-deck yacht, the Ponant, “was the victim of an act of piracy early this afternoon as it was sailing between Somalia and Yemen,” armed forces spokesman Christophe Prazuck said.

The three-masted yacht had no passengers on board at the time, Prazuck added. “As far as we know, no shots have been fired,” he said.

ponant.jpeg

French military forces in the area and a Djibouti-based United States-led multinational force, Combined Task Force 150, “were able to confirm the situation and are following its evolution,” he added.

France has a patrol aircraft based in Djibouti, as well as a dispatch boat.

French shipping group CMA-CGM confirmed one of its boats had been seized in the Gulf of Aden, on its way from the Indian Ocean’s Seychelles islands to the Mediterranean, and that a “majority” of the crew were French.

“The ship is indeed the Ponant, property of the CMA-CGM group. We were informed that there were pirates on board,” a company spokesman said.

In a statement, the group said it was “working closely with the foreign ministry. The French authorities are handling the situation.”

It said it did not want to give further information “to avoid endangering its crew taken hostage.”

Prime Minister Francois Fillon’s office said the government had launched a piracy alert plan, mobilising all available resources in the sector and making contact with its regional allies.

A French helicopter flew over the ship, while the foreign ministry also said it had made contact with the ship’s owner and was trying to reach the crew’s relatives.

Fillon said he and cross-departmental ministers were hoping for a successful outcome “as soon as possible,” stressing that Paris was in possession of “relatively major military resources within this zone”.

Pirate attacks are frequent off Somalia’s 3,700-kilometre (2,300-mile) coastline, prompting the International Maritime Bureau to advise sailors not to come closer than 200 nautical miles to its shore.

Somalia lies at the mouth of the Red Sea on a major trade route between Asia and Europe via the Suez Canal.

It has not had a functional government since the 1991 ousting of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

The French navy was called on in recent months to escort World Food Programme boats through Somali waters, after two of the agency’s boats were stolen.

And in November 2005, some 600 sea-borne European tourists narrowly avoided being boarded in nearby waters.

“You’re looking at a powerful maritime mafia,” said Olivier Hallaoui, of French security specialists Secopex.

“Most are fishermen-turned-bandits, with links to clans, local militias who realise this is a lucrative business because in almost every case ransoms are paid.

“They are equipped with GPS satellite and modern communications systems as well as heavy arms. Above all, they open fire without warning,” he added.

The 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 owner said.

The ship is one of three owned by the Marseille-based cruise operator Compagnie des Iles du Ponant, which presents itself as France’s leading cruise provider.

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One Response

  1. Why go there? Everybody knows this area is extremly dangerous, even tankers have been attacked! Was this an order from the owner, to see what happens to his crew? Or was the crew so stupid to see and find out?

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