- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 12, 2008

PARIS — French troops yesterday captured six pirates after they released 30 hostages who were aboard a tourist yacht off Somalia’s coast, French officials said.

French Gen. Jean-Louis Georgelin said no public money was used to pay a ransom, but he hinted heavily that the boat’s owners did hand over money and that some was recovered when the pirates were caught. French troops had recovered “interesting bags,” he said.

French shipping company CMA-CGM, which owns the operator of the 288-foot Le Ponant, hailed the end of the standoff but released no details about the operation.

The six captured pirates were being held on a French navy vessel, the president’s office said. They “gave themselves up without too much difficulty” and will be handed over to French judicial authorities, Gen. Georgelin said.

The pirates seemed to be Somali fishermen, and there were about a dozen altogether, he added. It was not immediately clear what had happened to the others.

France sent an elite commando force to the East African region after pirates seized the boat in the Gulf of Aden on April 4. It carried no passengers but had 30 crew members, 22 of them French.

The hostages, including six Filipino crew members, were taken to a French military base in Djibouti and will be flown to Paris in “two to three days,” according to Philippine Foreign Undersecretary Esteban Conejos.

Le Ponant is a three-masted vessel that can hold up to 64 passengers. About 10 pirates stormed the yacht as it was returning without passengers from the Seychelles, in the Indian Ocean, toward the Mediterranean Sea. The pirates then guided it down Somalia’s eastern coast.

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 series 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.

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