France has made contact with pirates who hijacked a French luxury yacht off Africa`s eastern coast with 30 French and Ukrainian crew members on board, the French foreign minister said Sunday, AP report.
About 10 suspected pirates stormed the 288-foot Le Ponant on Friday as it was returning, without passengers, from the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean. The pirates then guided the vessel down Somalia`s eastern coast.
The hijacking comes amid a surge in piracy in the seas off the chaotic Horn of Africa nation, where a weak and impoverished government is unable to patrol its territorial waters. Pirates have seized more than two dozen ships off the country`s coast in the last year, typically demanding high ransoms to free their hostages.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told France-Inter radio that France was in contact with the pirates.
"We have established contact, and the case may take a long time," he said, without providing more details. Asked whether France would consider paying a ransom, he responded, "We`ll see."
"We have to do everything to avoid bloodshed," Kouchner said.
Earlier, a local fisherman Mahdi Daud Anbuure told The Associated Press he saw the ship arriving at the northern town of Eyl, about 310 miles north of the Somali capital, Mogadishu, with a small boat heading toward it, apparently with supplies.
Abdirahman Mohamed Bangah, information minister for the semiautonomous northern region of Puntland, said he hoped international forces will "rescue this ship" at Eyl, confirming its location.
France`s prime minister said Saturday that he hoped to avoid force in freeing the crew but that no options had been ruled out. There are 22 French citizens, including six women, on board, as well as Ukrainian citizens, authorities said.
A French diplomat working on the case said the hostages were being treated well, and that they have been provided food and given the opportunity to wash. The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media.
The U.S. Navy has led international patrols to try to combat piracy in the region. But an increase in naval patrols has coincided with a rash of kidnappings of foreigners on land.
Two police officers were killed and another was wounded late Saturday during the attempted kidnapping of a German aid worker, Bangah said. Four men attempting to seize the woman were arrested, he said.
Somalia — wracked by more than a decade of violence and anarchy — does not have its own navy, its armed forces are poorly paid and a transitional government formed in 2004 with U.N. help has struggled to assert control.
Late Sunday, Islamic militants took possession of Balad, a town 18 miles north of Mogadishu, said resident Abdi Ibrahim. It is the ninth town they have taken in the past few months, in a series of hit-and-run attacks that usually sees them voluntarily withdraw after capturing equipment and freeing prisoners. Ibrahim said he was unaware of any casualties.
The insurgency, bandits and clan militias all contribute to the insecurity. Two U.N. contractors are currently being held hostage in the south of the country and several aid workers and a French journalist have been seized in the past few months.
The International Maritime Bureau, which tracks piracy, said in its annual report earlier this year that global pirate attacks rose 10 percent in 2007, marking the first increase in three years.