French commandos seized six pirates in Somalia on Friday during a daring helicopter raid launched shortly after the bandits had released the 30-strong crew of a luxury yacht hijacked last week.Unlike the situation with the U.S. Navy in other situations involving these pirates, the captured ship was French ship with a largely French crew. Under those circumstances, it is my opinion that the French had more freedom of action than the U.S. or other navies would have had.
French officials said the owners of the yacht paid a ransom to obtain the freedom of the crew and as soon as it was clear that they were all safe, the commandos went into action aboard helicopters to track down the pirates.
Georgelin said the French military tracked the pirates, believed to be Somali fishermen, after they made landfall and moved in when they saw some of the gang getting away in a car.
A sniper in one helicopter shot out the car engine while another helicopter dropped off three French soldiers who captured the six pirates and hauled them off to French navy helicopter carrier waiting off the Somali coast.
Georgelin said no public money was paid to free the hostages but he indicated that the ships owner had paid a ransom, part of which was found with the escaping pirates.
"When we captured the pirates we also recovered some interesting bags," he said.
French officials said the pirates would be tried in France. They said Paris would also seek much tougher United Nations action against maritime piracy.
Piracy is lucrative off lawless Somalia and most kidnappers treat their captives well in anticipation of a good ransom.
France said it would present new anti-piracy measures to fellow members of the United Nations Security Council next week aimed at toughening the war against sea banditry.
"This phenomenon is increasing, with the pirates becoming ever better equipped and organized," said Jean-David Levitte, Sarkozy's chief diplomatic advisor.
"We are confronted by a real, real threat," he said, adding that over the last 10 years 3,200 sailors had been kidnapped by pirates, 500 injured and 160 killed.
UPDATE: Interesting first report jumble here:
Local witnesses said an unknown number of people were killed by the rocket fire, which also destroyed three vehicles.Whatever.
"I could see clouds of smoke as six helicopters were bombing the pirates. The pirates were also firing anti-aircraft machine guns in reaction. I cannot tell the exact casualties," witness Mohamed Ibrahim told Reuters by radio telephone.
The district commissioner of Garaad, where the attack took place, said the helicopters landed and troops jumped out to grab members of a group of 14 pirates who had just come ashore where three pickup trucks with heavy weapons were waiting.
"Local residents came out to the see the helicopters on the ground. The helicopters took off and fired rockets on the vehicles and the residents there, killing five local people," Commissioner Abdiaziz Olu-Yusuf Mohamed told Reuters by phone.
In Paris, French officials said that the operation was conducted with minimal use of force for fear of causing collateral damage.
They said a Gazelle helicopter with a sniper on board and a Panther helicopter with three commandos on board were involved in the incident. In addition two more missile-armed Gazelle helicopters stood by in support but did not intervene.
They said the only shot fired was by the sniper to disable the engine of a vehicle containing the pirates.
"No shots were fired directly at the pirates," Jean-Louis Georgelin, chief of the armed forces general staff, told a news conference.
"The shot from the first Gazelle was enough to stop the vehicle and get out the pirates, who gave themselves up without too much difficulty," he said.