Elite French counter-terror team on standby to rescue yacht seized by Somali pirates

debkafile‘s shipping correspondent reveals that the pirates who seized the French Le Ponant luxury yacht Friday in international waters off Somalia and took its 32-man crew hostage, headed south Monday, April 7. They are moored on the Indian Ocean shore of the semi-autonomous Somali province of Puntland, near the village of Garacad. The French government has made contact with the pirates and reports that the hostages are safe and well.
A unit of the elite counter-terror French GIGN unit has meanwhile arrived in Djibouti to stand by if called on for for action to release the yacht and hostages. Tuesday, President Nicolas Sarkozy will meet the families of the captive crew to update them on the situation.
debkafile‘s counter-terror sources report: The GIGN is one of the most effective anti-terror forces in the world, trained especially in hostage rescue. It numbers only 90 highly-trained, crack fighting men, organized in teams of 15.
Puntland communications minister Abdirahman Mohamed Bangah appealed to the French government not to pay ransom, else piracy would continue to plague Somali shores, but rather to use force to rescue the hostages and free the vessel.
Earlier, French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner said bloodshed would be avoided and did not rule out paying ransom.
Le Ponant, an exclusive pleasure craft which accommodates 64 well-heeled tourists, was seized without passengers on its way from an Indian Ocean cruise to the Mediterranean. It is owned by Le Compagnie Des Iles du Ponant, a subsidiary of the huge Lebanese-French CMA CGM.

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