Somalia-PirateAttack 3rdLd-Writethru 04-11

French president announces release of hostages held in tourist yacht by pirates off Somalia

Eds: CORRECTS in 14th graf that owner of Danish cargo ship sted Danish government paid ransom.


Associated Press Writer

PARIS (AP) — Pirates have freed 30 hostages who were held aboard a French tourist yacht off Somalia’s coast for the past week, France’s president said Friday.


In a statement, President Nicolas Sarkozy thanked the French army and other French agencies "that allowed a quick end" to the hostage-taking. The statement did not elaborate on the role of the French military, but said the hostages were freed "without incident."

Pirates seized the yacht, called Le Ponant, in the Gulf of Aden on April 4. It was carrying 30 crew members, including 22 French citizens and six citizens of the Philippines.

The statement did not say when the hostages were released or where they were.

Philippines Foreign Undersecretary Esteban Conejos said France’s foreign ministry informed Filipino officials in Paris that the hostages — six Filipino crew members among them — were taken to a French military base in Djibouti and were to be flown to Paris in two to three days.

"They are in good physical condition," Conejos told The Associated Press in Manila. "All of them are safe and sound." He said the yacht also was also turned over safe.

Abdi-salan Qoje, a fisherman in Eyl village, near where the boat was being held, said he saw dozens of people being ferried Friday from the hijacked ship.

"As we went fishing at dawn we saw two empty boats heading to the hijacked ship in the distance," he told The Associated Press by telephone from Eyl, about 300 miles north of Mogadishu. "As the day wore on, the same boats passed us carrying at least 30 people. They waved at us."

Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said France would organize the hostages’ return "as soon as possible."


Sarkozy was to meet the families of the hostages in Paris on Friday afternoon.

France sent elite commando troops to the region earlier this week to bolster efforts to free the captives. A French frigate was diverted from its NATO duties and tracked the yacht, while a French plane dispatched from a French base in Djibouti flew over the boat, military officials said.

French military officials would not comment Friday on how the hostages were released.

Last August, the owner of a Danish cargo ship hijacked by Somali pirates paid a ransom 10 days before the ship and its Danish crew were handed over to a French warship and taken to Djibouti. The pirates had demanded $1.5 million, but it was not clear how much was paid by Danish shipping company H. Folmer & Co., which owns the Danica White.

Several days after the yacht was seized, an official in Somalia’s semiautonomous Puntland region, near where the yacht was being held, warned the French government against paying a ransom because it would encourage pirates to continue taking hostages.

Kouchner urged the international community to mobilize efforts against pirates in the Gulf of Aden, and said discussions were under way at the United Nations to bolster global efforts against pirates.

Pirates seized more than two dozen ships off Somalia’s coast last year. 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.

Somalia has been wracked by more than a decade of violence and anarchy and does not have its own navy. A transitional government formed in 2004 with U.N. help has struggled to assert control.



Associated Press writers Mohamed Olad Hassan in Mogadishu, Somalia, and Oliver Teves in Manila, Philippines, contributed to this report.

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