France makes global force plea to tackle piracy

FRANCE is to ask the United Nations to set up a dedicated international force to combat piracy off Somalia and in the Straits of Malacca.

Speaking after the liberation of the 30-strong crew of the cruise ship Le Ponant on Friday, French prime minister Francois Fillon, said that France was “naturally” ready to participate in such a force.

The French presidency had indicated earlier that France would establish informal contacts immediately with its 14 fellow members of the UN Security Council with a view to organising an international initiative to combat piracy.

It added that it hoped to be able to submit a written proposition to them in the course of this week.

Jean-David Levitte, diplomatic adviser to President Nicolas Sarkozy, indicated that France was particularly concerned about the situation off east Africa, which he said did not have the same resources as the states bordering on the Straits of Malacca.

The crew of the Le Ponant are due to arrive in Paris tonight after having made the voyage from Garacad in Somalia, where the vessel was being held, to Djibouti aboard the helicopter carrier, Jeanne d’Arc.

Mr. Fillon said that French forces had succeeded in recovering about half of the $2m ransom understood to have been paid by the CMA CGM shipping group, which owns the Le Ponant via its subsidiary Compagnie des Iles du Ponant.

It was not clear, however, what France intended to do with the six pirates it captured in the course of the helicopter operation carried out ashore after the crew of the Le Ponant had been liberated.

French defence minister Hervé Morin said that a legal study of the question was being carried out but added that it “seemed that there is no juridical obstacle to trying the pirates in France.

The master of the Le Ponant, Patrick Marchesseau, has revealed that the vessel’s crew tried to repulse the pirates with fire hoses when the vessel was attacked but that the pirates had rapidly got alongside and opened fire.

He said that the incident had begun after the crew had spotted what appeared to be a Korean or Taiwanese fishing vessel immobile in its path.

The Le Ponant circumnavigated the vessel but, subsequently, found two launches approaching it at speed.

Captain Marchesseau said that the vessel had not suffered major damage in the course of its captivity, apart from some pillaging and two window panes broken by a pirate who fired five shots accidentally while cleaning his weapon.

He also revealed that he had been able to keep a line of communication open to the outside without the pirates being aware of it.

CMA CGM said in a communiqué on Friday evening that the safety of the crew had been the “absolute priority” throughout the operation.

“Our thoughts today are with the crew and their families. We have to pay tribute to their courage in this difficult ordeal, and congratulate Captain Marchesseau for his self-control and great professionalism.”

The company added that it hoped that Europe would be able to assure the safe passage of ships in the region in future.

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