Author Topic: Hostage dies as rescuers attempt to free family from pirates  (Read 205 times)


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Hostage dies as rescuers attempt to free family from pirates
« on: April 11, 2009, 10:23:26 AM »

Florent Lemaçon and his son Colin. Before the attack the Lemaçons said: "The pirates must not destroy our dream"

A young French yachtsman was shot dead yesterday when French commandos stormed his vessel off Somalia, releasing his wife and three-year-old son and another couple who had been held captive by Somali pirates.

President Sarkozy offered condolences as the violent death of Florent Lemaçon, 28, a computer programmer from Brittany, stirred emotion in France: the family’s travels had been followed by many in the country on their internet blog.

Mr Sarkozy ordered the assault, the seventh in a year by French forces against Somali pirates, a week after the Tanit, the Lemaçon’s elderly 36ft (11m) craft, was seized about 400 miles off the Somali coast.

A naval vessel and helicopters had been tracking the Tanit. Paris offered an unspecified ransom but told the five pirates on board that they would not be allowed to reach the coast, Hervé Morin, the Defence Minister, said. Negotiations failed when the pirates demanded an excessive sum.

The attack began when sharpshooters in helicopters killed the three pirates in the open cockpit instantly. Then followed a gunbattle with the two Somalis who were holding Chloé Lemaçon, Colin, the couple’s son, and the two friends who had joined them to sail through the dangerous Red Sea and Indian Ocean.

Mr Lemaçon was shot in the cramped cabin as commandos fought their way in from the cockpit. It was not yet known whether he was killed by the pirates or was caught in crossfire.

Two pirates were captured in the operation, which lasted six minutes, Mr Morin said.

The rescued captives were on their way to Djibouti last night. Their vessel, which had been disabled when French forces shredded the sails with gunfire, was being towed to Djibouti.

Mr Lemaçon’s death was the first in three operations in the past year to rescue French hostages.

A statement from Mr Sarkozy’s office said “a hostage sadly died”. But it emphasised the President’s “determination not to give into blackmail and to defeat the pirates”.

The Government criticised Chloé and Florent Lemaçon for ignoring advice to steer well clear of Somalia.

The couple, both in their late 20s, set out last July from Vannes, their home port in Brittany, on a dream voyage to Zanzibar. They were known in western France because the local media followed their struggle to renovate their old boat and decision to sail on a voyage “to escape consumer society”.

In their blog the couple recounted their mishaps and adventures as they picked their way through the Mediterranean, despite repeated mechanical failures.

Mr Lemaçon’s father denied that the pair had ignored the Navy’s warnings. He also pointed out that the couple, who gave up jobs in information technology to make their voyage, had no money to pay any ransom.

Local officials in Brittany said that they were shocked by Mr Lemaçon’s death. François Goulard, the Mayor of Vannes and its MP, said: “There was an idealist side to their project. That’s why we find it hard to imagine this tragic end.” All the people of Vannes “expressed their solidarity with his partner and their child and their family”, he said.

The Government said that the Lemaçons were repeatedly warned of the risks they faced. “It is difficult to understand why these warnings were not heeded,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

The Tanit was seized about 400 miles off Ras Hafun in northeast Somalia as she was sailing slowly towards Puntland, the lair of the pirates on the northeastern coast of Somalia.

In their blog, the couple described what they said was a friendly conversation last month with the captain of the Floréal, a French frigate taking part in in the EU antipiracy operation in the Gulf of Aden.

They claimed that they had merely been told to keep away from shipping routes.

Hundreds of ransom-hunting pirates armed with machineguns and rocket-propelled grenades have hijacked dozens of ships over the past year, mostly merchant vessels.

In January French forces captured a dozen pirates in two operations to save merchant vessels from capture. Last September French special forces stormed the Carre d’As, a yacht carrying a retired French couple captured by pirates two weeks earlier. They freed the pair and killed one pirate, capturing all the others.

In April last year French forces attacked pirates who had just released the luxury cruise yacht Le Ponant and her crew of 30. They retrieved half of the ransom and six pirates were brought to France for trial.

From the Tanit blog

“For us, leaving is just a way of living differently. We do not want to become rich and famous. We do not want to enclose ourselves in the daily routine of Western life. We want to stop all-out consumption. That is why this journey suits us. Sharing with people met on the way, profiting simply from life. For light and the essentials of navigation, the wind and the sun should give us enough energy. . .” Florent and Chloé Lemaçon, writing jointly

“We are happy to resume the voyage. There remain the pirates, which like poachers or other cheats intervene in regions where wealth circulates. As long as we are on these routes, we will take the risk of running into them.” On leaving the Suez canal

“We bumped into Jean-Yves and Bernadette Delanne. They had just been liberated by commandos after being hostages for two weeks. Their tale was impressive and reassuring. They did not feel in danger because these Somalis did not want their lives. They wanted money. Pirates must not destroy our dream.” Chloé Lemaçon, on entering the Red Sea after 8 March

“We will make headway by day and night with all lights out, after reporting our departure to French authorities in Djibouti. . . Since we cannot take part in a convoy with an escort, two friends from Vannes (their hometown) will come with us. That will be more reassuring because our boat is heavy and cannot run away from pirates.