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French troops storm yacht, rescue hostages

French troops stormed a yacht hijacked by Somali pirates, killing one, capturing six others and freeing their two French hostages in a raid that France's president said Tuesday was a warning to criminals on the high seas.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced at a press conference Tuesday that French forces rescued two hostages in a gunbattle with Somali pirates that left one of the kidnappers dead and six captured.Jean Ayissi / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

French troops stormed a yacht hijacked by Somali pirates, killing one, capturing six others and freeing two French hostages in a raid that France's president said Tuesday was a warning to criminals on the high seas.

President Nicolas Sarkozy urged the world to mobilize against maritime piracy and said the overnight military assault that freed Jean-Yves and Bernadette Delanne — the second such French operation in five months — was a demonstration of France's "unbending determination against piracy."

"The pirates now know that they are taking risks, big risks," Sarkozy said.

The Delanne couple, from French Polynesia, were sailing a friend's boat from Australia to France when they were captured Sept. 2 by pirates lying in wait in the Gulf of Aden.

About 30 French soldiers took part in what Sarkozy called a meticulously planned assault that he ordered Monday night. The hostages were freed in 10 minutes and the soldiers were unhurt, he said.

Sarkozy said he ordered the rescue when it became clear that the pirates planned to take the hostages to Eyl, a Somali zone that serves as a base for numerous pirates.

"Their captivity could have lasted months," Sarkozy said.

High winds deferred the assault for two nights running, he said.

Danger on the high seas
Piracy off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden has "exploded" this year, Sarkozy said, adding that Somali pirates are holding 150 people and at least 15 ships, mainly in Eyl.

The Gulf of Aden has been the scene of most of the 54 pirate attacks this year off the coast of Somalia. The French president said that some 48,000 ships pass through the gulf annually.

Sarkozy said France will ask the U.N. Security Council, where it has a permanent seat, to mobilize the international community against "this plague" of piracy.

"The world cannot accept this. Today, these are no longer isolated cases but a genuine industry of crime. This industry casts doubt on a fundamental freedom: that of movement and of international commerce," said Sarkozy.

He added: "I call on the other countries of the world to assume their responsibilities, as France has done — twice."

On Monday, European Union foreign ministers agreed to set up a special unit to coordinate warship patrols off the coast of Somalia to protect shipping from pirates.

The EU ministers said the new warship unit to patrol off the Somali coast should be established within the next few days to coordinate "surveillance and protection activities" by the navies of the 27-nation bloc.

Several EU nations have sent warships to the coast of the east African nation to stop pirates who have been seizing yachts, freighters and fishing boats.

Ships from France, Denmark and the Netherlands, along with Canada, also have escorted vessels carrying food aid to Somalia for the United Nations since November.

Sarkozy said he intends to bring the six pirates — now held on a French frigate — to France. But he left open the possibility that Somalia could keep them if "we are certain that these pirates will be tried, sentenced and will serve out their punishments."

The body of the slain pirate will be handed over to Somali authorities, Sarkozy added.

Fighting back
The raid by an international force was not unprecedented. In April, helicopter-borne French troops swooped in on Somali pirates after the pirates freed 30 hostages from a yacht, seizing six of the hijackers and recovering sacks of money — apparently ransom paid by the ship's owners.

A U.S. task force also helps maintain security off Somalia and nearby countries, and the U.S. military said last year that a Navy ship fired on pirates who overtook a Danish vessel.

Sarkozy said a ransom demand was made, but not paid, in the latest case.

Sarkozy noted that armed pirates hijacked a Hong Kong chemical tanker with 22 crew members in the Gulf of Aden in a fresh attack on Monday. The tanker was en route to Asia and sailing in a maritime security corridor patrolled by an international naval force when it was attacked, said Noel Choong of the International Maritime Bureau.