VARIOUS: French military helicopters seize pirates who had released hostages they had been holding on captured...
- Title: VARIOUS: French military helicopters seize pirates who had released hostages they had been holding on captured luxury yacht off Somali coast
- Date: 12th April 2008
- Summary: FREED HOSTAGES' RELATIVES GATHER ON STEPS OF THE PALACE PRESIDENT NICOLAS SARKOZY ARRIVES AND JOININS THEM ALL POSE FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS FAMILIES APPLAUD AS SARKOZY WALKS UP STEPS AND ENTERS ELYSEE FAMILIES ON STEPS
- Reuters ID: LVA7YGUEGKKR7TWWDLMDVJELGYU8
- Duration: 00:00:19
- Aspect Ratio:
- Topics: International Relations
- Story Text: French commandos seized six pirates in Somalia on Friday (April 11) during a daring helicopter raid launched shortly after the bandits had released the 30-strong crew of a luxury yacht hijacked last week.
French officials said the owners of the yacht Ponant paid a ransom to obtain the freedom of the crew and as soon as it was clear that they were all safe, the commandos went into action aboard 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.
Edouard Guillaud, President Sarkozy's private Chief of Staff said: "The absolute priority, before anything else, was the life of the hostages, and recover them safe and sound which is the case now."
General Jean-Louis Georgelin, head of the armed forces general staff told a news conference in Paris. "There was no shooting during the phase of liberation of the hostages. There was a negotiation between the shipowner and the pirates."
Georgelin said the French military tracked the pirates, believed to be Somali fishermen, after they made landfall and moved in when they saw some of the gang getting away in a car. No public money was paid to free the hostages but Georgelin indicated that the ship's owner had paid a ransom, part of which was found with the escaping pirates.
He said: "Strictly and of course, no public money has been spent.
During the recovery of the hostages, we recovered some interesting bags. We have recuperated part of the ransom that was probably paid."
French media reported that two million U.S. dollars was paid by the owners, but family members who met President Nicolas Sarkozy said they were simply relieved that the hostages were free.
"It is wonderful. We still have to wait for 48 hours before we can hold them in our arms, but it's great," said the mother of one of the hostages.
The ship's owner, Jean-Emmanuel Sauvet, denied any ransom had been paid when questioned by journalists.
"No, of course! It's a very delicate and difficult process and what we should remember is the result is that these people, the crew members, will be able to go back home tonight," he said.
Around 12 pirates grabbed the three-masted yacht last Friday, about 850 km out to sea in the Gulf of Aden. They then sailed the boat to the Somali coast, eventually mooring at Garaad, near the town of Eyl. The French navy sent two vessels to the area, with four or five helicopters on board and around 50 commandos.
The Foreign Ministry said the crew, 22 of whom are French, would be repatriated as soon as possible. Most of the other crew members came from Ukraine and Philippines.
The Ponant is owned by the Compagnie des Iles du Ponant and was heading from the Seychelles to the Mediterranean Sea when it was hijacked. It can hold 64 passengers but had no holidaymakers aboard when the pirates struck.
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- Embargoed:27th April 2008 13:00
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