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Contract Killings


Saturday, 5 April 2008

Attackers stormed the three-mast Le Ponant as it returned without passengers from the Seychelles, in the Indian Ocean

"This is a blatant act of piracy," Prime Minister Francois Fillon told reporters while on a visit to Brussels. "The Defense and Foreign ministries are mobilized to act as quickly as possible, I hope in the coming minutes or hours to try to win the freedom of these hostages."
Pirates seized control of a French luxury yacht carrying 30 crew members Friday in the Gulf of Aden off Somalia's coast, the French government and the ship's owner said.Pirates boarded a French luxury cruise yacht off the coast of Somalia and took its entire crew hostage today, a French military spokesman said.
The yacht, the Ponant, "was the victim of an act of piracy early this afternoon as it was sailing between Somalia and Yemen," spokesman Christophe Prazuck said.
The 850-tonne, three-masted yacht was carrying about 30 crew but had no passengers on board, Prazuck said."As far as we know, no shots have been fired," he said. French military forces and a US-led task force, both present in the area, "were able to confirm the situation and are following its evolution."France has a patrol aircraft based in Djibouti, as well as a dispatch boat.French cruise operator CMA-CGM confirmed one of its boats had been seized in the Gulf of Aden, on its way from the Seychelles to the Mediterranean, and "the majority" of its crew were French nationals."The ship is indeed the Ponant, property of the CMA-CGM group. We were informed that there were pirates on board," a company spokesman said.
Prime Minister Francois Fillon's office said the government had launched a piracy alert plan.The foreign ministry said it had made contact with the ship's owner and was trying to reach the crew's relatives.The 32-cabin Ponant, fully equipped with lounges, bar and restaurant, is one of three operated by the Marseille-based firm, which describes itself as France's leading cruise provider.With a capacity for 64 passengers, it offers several cruises in the Gulf region, including between Egypt and Aqaba in Jordan, and off the coast of Oman, according to the company's website.
Pirate attacks are frequent off Somalia's 3700-km coastline, prompting the International Maritime Bureau to advise sailors to steer clear.
The French navy was called on in recent months to escort World Food Program boats through Somali waters, after two of the agency's boats were stolen.
Attackers stormed the three-mast Le Ponant as it returned without passengers from the Seychelles, in the Indian Ocean, toward the Mediterranean Sea, said officials with French maritime transport company CMA-CGM.
He did not elaborate. France has considerable military resources in the region, including a base in Djibouti and a naval flotilla circulating in the Indian Ocean.
The ship was in the high seas in the Gulf of Aden, off Somalia's coast in the Indian Ocean, the ministry said. At least some of the crew members are French. The company declined to identify any other crew member nationalities.
"French authorities are handling the situation," Jean-Emmanuel Sauvee, managing director of La Compagnie des Iles du Ponant, told reporters in the southeastern city of Marseille, where his subsidiary of CMA-CGM is based. The company did not want to comment further so as not to endanger the crew members held hostage, he said.
According to the company's Web site, the 88-meter (288-foot) boat features four decks, two restaurants, and indoor and outdoor luxury lounges. It can hold up to 64 passengers.
Le Ponant was next scheduled to carry passengers as part of a 10-day, seven-night trip from Alexandria, Egypt, to Valletta, Malta, starting April 19. Prices started at $3,465, not including air fare or taxes.
Pirates seized more than two dozen ships off Somalia's coast last year.
Denmark's government paid a ransom to win the release in August of the crew of a Danish cargo ship that was hijacked by Somali pirates some two months after they were taken captive.
The U.S. Navy has led international patrols to try to combat piracy in the region. Last year, the guided missile destroyer USS Porter opened fire to destroy pirate skiffs tied to a Japanese tanker.
Wracked by more than a decade of violence and anarchy, Somalia does not have its own navy, and a transitional government formed in 2004 with U.N. help has struggled to assert control.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

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