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French luxury yacht hijacked by "pirates" arrives in northern Somalia
Mohamed Bangah, information minister for the semiautonomous northern region of Puntland, said he hoped international forces will "rescue this ship" at Eyl
MOGADISHU, Somalia, 6 April 2008 - A French luxury yacht seized by suspected pirates in the Gulf of Aden with 30 crew members on board has arrived in northern Somalia, officials and fishermen said Sunday.
About 10 suspected pirates had stormed the 88-metre 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.
Local fisherman Mahdi Daud Anbuure told The Associated Press that he saw the ship arriving at the northern town of Eyl, with a small boat heading toward it, apparently with supplies.
France's prime minister said Saturday that he hoped to avoid using force to free the crew but 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 frigate, Le Commandant Bouan, temporarily was diverted from NATO duties and is tracking the yacht, French military spokesman Cmdr. Christophe Prazuck said Saturday. He said an airplane dispatched from a French base in Djibouti flew over the yacht, reporting that all appeared calm aboard the ship.
Fishermen reported seeing heavily armed pirates heading out from the area nine days ago, district commissioner Hareed Iise Umar said.
Abdirahman Mohamed Bangah, information minister for the semiautonomous northern region of Puntland, said he hoped international forces will "rescue this ship" at Eyl, about 500 kilometres north of the Somali capital, Mogadishu.
More than two dozen ships have been seized by pirates off Somalia's coast in the last year.
In August, Denmark's government paid a ransom to win the release of the crew of a Danish cargo ship hijacked by pirates and held captive for about two months.
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.
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 people were arrested.
Somalia - wracked by more than a decade of violence and anarchy - does not have its own navy, its armed forces are poorly paid and the transitional government formed in 2004 with UN help has struggled to assert control.
Two UN contractors currently are being held hostage in the south, 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 per cent in 2007, marking the first increase in three years.
Associated Press writers Mohamed Olad Hassan in Mogadishu, Somalia, and Pierre-Yves Roger in Paris contributed to this report.