April 5, 2008
Somali pirates seize French cruise ship
A French cruise ship is being kept under surveillance following its seizure by pirates off coast of Somalia, Friday.
The ship is the 88 m, 64-passenger, three masted sail-assisted Le Ponant, operated by CNA CGM subsidiary Compagnie des Iles du Ponant.
CMA CGM says 30 crew members and no passengers were on board when the ship was seized. It was headedback to the Mediterranean after completing a Seychelles itinerary.
A French foreign ministry statement said that on news of the incident, all the means at France's disposal in the region were immediately mobilized and an interministerial crisis team has been set up, under an antipiracy plan set in action on Friday by Prime Minister Francois Fillon.
"We prefer to protect the lives of persons who are on board, so all discussion channels are open to try to solve this case, trying not to use force," said Prime Minister Fran¨ois Fillon. However, the action plan provides for the possible use of French Naval Commandos or a special intervention unit of the Gendarmerie Nationale.
As part of the response, the French Navy corvette Commandant Bouan was rerouted to go to the assistance of Le Ponant. A Canadian helicopter from HMCS Charlottetown is also reportedly taking part in the operation
The foreign ministry statement also said that France is cooperating with allies with assets in the region and had contacted the Somali authorities.
Minister of Defense Herve Morin said earlier today that French authorities have had no contact since the attack with either the ship's crew or the pirates
According to an AFP report, the pirates were headed towards the northeastern coastal waters of Somalia.
It quoted an official of Somalia's Puntland region, Bile Mohamoud Qabowsade, as saying that according to his information the pirates were heading for the Eyl coastal region
On March 18, Somali hijackers released the Svitzer tug Svitzer Korsakov. It had been held since February 1. Following capture the tug was taken down the east coast of Somalia and held offshore close to the town of Eyl.
Svitzer was reported to have paid a hefty ransom, widely quoted as $700,000. Svitzer declined to comment and asked that details of its negotiations with the hijackers not be put in the public domain.