IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

France: Pirates held, hostages freed off Somalia

French commandos seized six pirates in Somalia on Friday during a daring helicopter raid  after bandits released the crew of a luxury yacht hijacked last week.
This undated photo shows Le Ponant, a French cruise ship, sailing in an unknown location. Pirates who had seized control of the vessel were captured Friday by French forces.AP
/ Source: news services

French commandos seized six pirates in Somalia on Friday during a daring helicopter raid launched shortly after the bandits had released the 30-member crew of a luxury yacht hijacked last week.

French officials said the owners of the yacht paid a ransom to free the crew. As soon as all were released and safe, troops boarded helicopters to track down the pirates.

A district commissioner in Somalia told Reuters that five local people had died in the attack, but the French military denied killing anyone in their daylight raid.

"It was an intervention not a pulverization," said Gen. Jean-Louis Georgelin, head of the armed forces general staff.

"When we captured the pirates we also recovered some interesting bags," he said, making clear that some, although not all of the ransom had been recovered in the raid.

He declined to say how much money had been paid by the ship's owners.

Georgelin said the French military tracked the pirates down on land. Believed to be Somali fishermen, troops saw some members getting away in a car.

A sniper in one helicopter shot out the car engine while another helicopter dropped off three elite French soldiers who captured the six pirates and hauled them off to French navy helicopter carrier waiting off the Somali coast.

"It is the first time an act of piracy in this area has been resolved so quickly ... and it is also the first time that some of the pirates have been apprehended," Admiral Edouard Guillard told a news conference in Paris.

'Phenomenon increasing'
Pirates seized the yacht, called Le Ponant, in the Gulf of Aden on April 4. It was carrying 30 crew members, including 22 French citizens and six citizens of the Philippines.

Pirates then sailed the boat to the Somali coast, eventually mooring the vessel at Garaad, near the town of Eyl.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy gestures as he delivers a speech on public budget cuts before civil servants in Cahors, southwestern France, Tuesday April 8, 2008. Sarkozy says the Olympic flame shouldn't be taken hostage by protesters and calls it \"sad\" that the Paris torch relay descended into chaos. He says he understands that Chinese feelings were \"wounded\" by what happened in Paris but told reporters Tuesday that protests are normal in a democratic country.Remy Gabalda / AP

Piracy has become lucrative off Somalia, where most kidnappers treat captives well in anticipation of a hefty ransom.

France said it would present new anti-piracy measures to fellow members of the United Nations Security Council next week aimed at toughening the war against sea banditry.

"This phenomenon is increasing, with the pirates becoming ever better equipped and organized," said Jean-David Levitte, President Nicolas Sarkozy's chief diplomatic advisor.

"We are confronted by a real, real threat," he said, adding that over the last 10 years 3,200 sailors had been kidnapped by pirates, 500 injured and 160 killed.

He said countries like Somalia that have a problem with piracy need to open their seas to international naval patrols and countries with strong fleets, like France and Britain, need counter-piracy units.

The pirates remained on the French Navy vessel, Sarkozy's office said.

In an earlier statement, Sarkozy thanked the French army and other French agencies “that allowed a quick end” to the hostage-taking. Sarkozy said he would meet the families of the hostages in Paris on Friday.