by Bob Maxwell
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has announced that 32 hostages held on the 288 foot superyacht Le Ponant by pirates off the coast of Somalia have been released.
The trimasted cruiser was hijacked a week ago in the Gulf of Aden and has been anchored off Garacade, near the town of Eyl in Puntland, a breakaway northern region of Somalia, 500km north of Mogadishu.
'The President expresses his deep gratitude to the French armed forces and all the state services which enabled a rapid and peaceful solution to this hostage-taking,' a statement said.
The hostages including 22 French and 10 Filipino, Korean and Ukrainian crew aboard Le Ponant were freed 'without incident', Sarkozy said without providing details.
In a further statement France’s General Jean-Louis Goergelin has said that French forces arrested six pirates an hour after the release of the hostages, once the crew were safely ashore.
The General said no public money was used to pay a ransom. But it appears that that the French shipping company CMA-CGM, the owners may have made cash payments. The French troops have recovered 'interesting bags,' he said.
The six captured pirates were being held on a French Navy vessel, the President's office reported. They 'gave themselves up without too much difficulty' and will be handed over to French judicial authorities.
Somali sources had initially reported there were 12 pirates and there were unconfirmed reports two days ago that up to six of them had been killed or captured by local Somali militia, after coming ashore.