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Crew of French Yacht Freed Somali Hijackers Detained

By James Greenwald last modified Apr 12, 2008 06:06 AM

Published: 2008-04-12 06:06:56
Topics: Piracy & Security
Countries: Somalia , Yemen , Djibouti

Somalia, 11 April 2008. Six of the pirates who took over the French luxury cruise ship Le Ponant have been arrested by French forces following the liberation of the vessel's 30 crew members.

President Nicolas Sarkozy earlier announced that the hostages including 22 French crew members of Le Ponant had been freed in an operation that took place "without incident." Armed forces chief of staff General Jean-Louis Georgelin said that half of the hostage takers were arrested about one hour after they had released the crew and had returned on land.

The head of the French army Général Jean-Louis Georgelin said that the pirates were arrested after having gone ashore about one hour after the freeing of the crew of the Le Ponant. Owned by French charter company CMA-CGM, Le Ponant was en route to the Mediterranean from the Seychelles when pirates boarded the vessel last Friday.

The six pirates were taken aboard a French navy ship where they were being held on Friday, said a statement from the French presidency. "We were able to track the pirates which enabled a helicopter-borne action to intercept half of them," Georgelin told a news conference.

The operation was carried out with the authorisation of the Somali authorities, according to General Georgelin, who indicated that warning and interception shots were fired but said that there had been no direct firing on the pirates themselves, agency report said. The arrested pirates were being held off the Somali coast on the helicopter carrier, Jeanne d?Arc, according to a senior French navy spokesman. French military leaders, who were speaking in a press conference at the headquarters of the French presidency, the Elysées Palace, indicated that no state funds had been paid to the pirates to obtain the liberation of the crew of the Le Ponant but did not rule out the possibility that a ransom had been paid by the Le Ponant's owner, the CMA CGM shipping group.

Meanwhile, the Le Ponant is expected in Djibouti on Tuesday. CMA CGM spokesman in Djibouti Jean-Louis Gaudaire said today that he was not sure how the vessel would be crewed for its journey to Djibouti, where France has a major military base, but said that it was possible that the skipper would remain aboard with a French navy crew. The French presidency announced that the Le Ponant's 30-strong crew of 22 French nationals, six Filipinos, a Ukrainian and a Cameroonian had been liberated after talks with representatives of the pirates.

Details were not given immediately, except to say that there had been no incidents or bloodshed. French president Nicolas Sarkozy met the families of crew members at the Elysée Palace this afternoon and CMA CGM chairman Jacques Saade was due to brief journalists there after the meeting. The three-masted, 32-cabin vessel, which is operated by CMA CGM cruise subsidiary, Compagnie des Iles du Ponant was taken over by pirates off the northern Somali coast in the Gulf of Aden on April 4. It was taken under the pirates control to Garacad, south of the port of Eyl, where it spent the whole of last week while negotiations were under way between representatives of the pirates and CMA CGM and the French authorities. Local sources indicated that it had probably been seized by the Somali Marines, described as a highly organised group of pirates with warlord protection and a separate "business" structure for ransom negotiations.

French foreign affairs minister Bernard Koucher called for more United Nations involvement in action by the international community to combat piracy in the Gulf of Aden and off the Somali coast. "The international community must mobilise for a determined fight against acts of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and off the Somali coast," he said.