Updated: Luxury Yacht Still Held By Pirates
France In Contact with Somali Pirates
Somalia Urges France to Take Action Against Pirates
Pirate Seizure May Affect Itineraries
Update: Somali Pirates Free Hostages
In the end, Friday's capture of six Somali hijackers who shanghaied crewmembers of a French luxury yacht had all the drama befitting a case of 21st century piracy.
After brokering the safe release of the luxury vessel Le Ponant and all 30 hostages, the French military successfully tracked the pirates after the bandits abandoned the ship and attempted to escape on land in Somalia. When some of the pirates fled in a vehicle, French commandos gave chase in a helicopter, disabled the vehicle with gunfire and snared the six hostage-takers. The pirates are currently in military custody onboard a French navy ship.
The remainder of the pirates (it is believed there were a dozen hijackers total) are still at large.
The release of Le Ponant and its crew, including 22 French citizens, was secured after the owners of the yacht paid a ransom of $2 million (1.3 million euros), according to published reports. Le Ponant is owned by La Compagnie des Iles du Ponant.
A portion of the ransom money was recovered when French troops scooped up the fleeing pirates. French authorities indicated that no public money was used to pay the ransom.
Multiple news outlets reported that government officials in Somalia have said several Somali locals were killed during the helicopter raid, but the French military denies those claims.
The 30 members of Le Ponant's crew are being transported to a French military base in Djibouti where they will board a flight to Paris on Monday.
Pirates seized the three-masted Le Ponant on April 4 off the coast of Somalia while the vessel was repositioning from the Seychelles, where it had spent the winter, to the Mediterranean. No passengers were aboard the 64-passenger ship at the time. While Le Ponant traditionally serves French cruise travelers, it is also chartered by Connecticut-based Tauck World Discovery for a series of spring, summer and fall 2008 Mediterranean sailings, which will cater primarily to passengers from the U.S.
--by Michael Potter, Assistant Editor