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Pirates seize French yacht, 30 crew off Somalia

Paris, April 5, 2008

Pirates stormed a French luxury yacht off the coast of Somalia on Friday and took its 30 crew hostage, prompting Paris to send troops to the area to secure the prisoners' release.

Luxury sailboat the 'Ponant' was heading from the Seychelles to the Mediterranean Sea when pirates stormed it in the Gulf of Aden, which lies between Somalia and Yemen, said a spokesman for the boat's owner, the Compagnie des Iles du Ponant.

There were no holidaymakers on board, a spokesman for the tour company said, adding that most of the crew are French.

"It is a blatant act of piracy. We have relatively large military means in this area. We are mobilised to obtain the release of the hostages as quickly as possible," French Prime Minister Francois Fillon told reporters in Brussels.

France has 2,900 troops stationed in Djibouti, which borders Somalia and also lies on the Gulf of Aden.

Fillon said he hoped the hostages would be freed "in the coming hours and minutes," adding that he had activated an emergency plan to send French troops to the area and ask France's allies in the region to do the same.

Pirate attacks regularly disrupt shipping off the Somali coast, according to the International Maritime Bureau, which reported some 31 cases of piracy in the area in 2007.

The yacht, shown on the tour company's Web site, is an 88-metre, three-mast ship capable of housing 64 passengers in its 32 cabins, all of which are equipped with a flat-screen television and a minibar.

The French Foreign Ministry said in a statement an "interministerial crisis cell" had been set up and it was in close contact with the yacht's owners.

France Info radio said surveillance aircraft had been diverted to the area and a ship from the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom was heading towards the site of the attack.

French Defence Ministry spokesman Christophe Prazuck declined to say whether French Navy ships would head to the site, but added that ships in anti-terrorist unit Task Force 150, part of Operation Enduring Freedom, were in the area.-Reuters




Tags: Pirates | hostage | French | Yacht | seize |

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