April 4 -- Pirates have ambushed the 64-passenger Le Ponant, a luxury cruise yacht, off the coast of Somalia, taking 30 crew members hostage in the process.

A spokesperson from La Compagnie des Iles du Ponant, the ship's France-based owner, has confirmed that no passengers were onboard when bandits seized the ship in the Gulf of Aden, a waterway situated between Somalia and Yemen. The three-masted Le Ponant was en route from the Seychelles to the Mediterranean when the attack occurred. It was scheduled to pick up tourists as part of a seven-night trip from Alexandria to Valletta on April 19.

AP reports indicate that help is on the way: "A French frigate, Le Commandant Bouan, was temporarily diverted from its role in the naval arm of Operation Enduring Freedom to track the yacht, military spokesman Cmdr. Christophe Prazuck said. A Canadian helicopter on the HCMS Charlottetown was also taking part."

Negotiations to secure the release of the crew are said to be ongoing.

While the luxury yacht is indeed marketed primarily to French passengers, it's also a ship that's used on select Mediterranean itineraries by Connecticut-based Tauck Tours and, as well, is marketed to U.K. travelers. (Thanks to member JohnnyCruise for the info!)

Pirate activity is surprisingly common in the choppy waters of the Gulf of Aden, with 31 cases reported in 2007. Though the incidents typically involve cargo ships, in fall 2005, Seabourn Spirit was attacked by two pirate boats wielding machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. Evasive measures allowed the ship to escape the attack.

We'll be following the progress of this story. Stay tuned.

--by Dan Askin, Assistant Editor