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Skipper of Sea-Jacked Yacht Killed in Rescue Attack by French Navy

By Sue Richards last modified Apr 11, 2009 11:38 AM

Published: 2009-04-11 11:38:51
Countries: France , Somalia

Twenty eight year-old French yachtsman Florent Lemaçon was shot dead on Thursday (9 April) as French commandos stormed his vessel off Somalia in an effort to release his wife, their three-year-old son and two crew who had been held hostage by Somali pirates for nearly a week (see report of sea-jacking here).

President Nicolas Sarkozy offered his condolences to the family after ordering the assault, which was the seventh to take place in a year against Somali pirates.

French Defence Minister Hervé Morin had stated that negotiations had stalled after the pirates demanded an excessive ransom, and that an operation had begun when sharpshooters in helicopters picked off three pirates in the open cockpit of the eleven-metre craft. This was then followed by a gun battle with the two Somalis who were holding almost all those on board hostage, with Mr Lemaçon being killed in the cramped cabin as commandos fought in from the cockpit.

The operation to free those on board the Tanit - the third time French troops have freed hostages from pirates - began late on Thursday, five days after the yacht was seized, the office of President Nicolas Sarkozy said.

Negotiations with the pirates had begun earlier this week, the president's spokesman said. But when talks broke down troops immobilised the vessel before moving in for an operation that lasted six minutes.

It has been reported that two attacks took place. The first around 47 miles off Ras Hafun, North-East Somalia, and the second 20 miles off the coast. Two pirates were killed and three arrested.

It is not yet known whether Florent Lemaçonhe was killed by the pirates or caught in the crossfire. The four freed hostages are being taken by French authorities to Djibouti.