Six pirates were arrested in a high drama raid Friday by French commandos as the hostage-takers tried to escape in a 4x4 vehicle, having gone ashore in Somalia after releasing the Le Ponant crew members for a ransom. A ransom of $2 million was reportedly paid by the company that owns the cruise yacht.
According to BoatTest, the Le Ponant skipper said he had managed to contact the authorities without the pirates` knowledge, despite having been warned not to.
While complete details were not available at press time, it seems that part of the 30-member crew were taken ashore by the pirates, while others were left aboard Le Ponant, anchored offshore. Once the money had changed hands and the crew members were safe, French commandos arrived by helicopter, probably from the French Navy’s helicopter cruiser, Jeanne d’Arc, which was waiting offshore.
As six of the pirates sped away in a cloud of dust down a desolate dirt road along the arid Somalia coast -- in a region called Puntland -– the French Navy commandos choppered in. They reportedly disabled the engine of the 4X4 used by the pirates with machine gun fire, then rounded up the pirates as they fled on foot across the brushland. It is reported that part of the ransom was recovered. The French Navy has not released information about the remaining pirates. Reportedly between 12 and 20 marauders captured the French cruise yacht.
The 30 crew members of the yacht Le Ponant were taken on a French helicopter carrier off Somalia, and have been flown to a French military base in Djibouti. The crew will now fly on to France. It is not yet clear if the non-French crew members of Le Ponant, which is now said to have included six Filipinos, a Cameroonian and a Ukrainian, will also travel to France. The former hostages have all had medical and psychological check-ups, says the French Navy.
The French foreign ministry would like to see the pirates brought to France for trial. There is no information yet regarding if or when this will happen.
While French President Sarkozy said that none of the pirates had been killed, a local Puntland official is widely reported to have said three people had been killed as the commandos apprehended the pirates. Somalia has had no unifying government in many years.
For the last decade there has been consistent piracy off the Somalia coast and numerous vessels have been taken over, virtually all so that the crew could be ransomed. Most of these vessels have been freighters or tankers. Both the owners and the crew of Le Ponant were well aware of the danger of sailing in these waters. However, the Indian Ocean narrows into the Gulf of Aden which narrows to just a few miles near Djibouti and the entrance to the Red Sea.
The French government has announced that it will be making a motion in the UN Security Council to pass a harsh resolution against piracy.