Nice to seize you, to seize you nice!
BY STEPHEN WHITE
April 19, 2008
The captain (C) of the French luxury yacht Ponant, whose crew had been taken hostage by pirates, is greeted by relatives upon his arrival at Orly airport near Paris April 14, 2008.
POLITE PIRATES” CODE OF CONDUCT
BANDITS who hijacked a luxury yacht and held 30 people hostage insisted they followed a "polite pirating guide".
The six raiders claimed they had a good conduct manual on how to seize foreign vessels to ensure their prisoners felt "relaxed and cheerful" during their week”s captivity.
The written guide said they must not sexually assault women hostages, not shout at prisoners, give them food and drink regularly and let them sleep and use the toilet when they ask.
The gunmen even brought goats on to the 290ft French yacht, inviting their captives and 20 friends from their village in Somalia to an on-board barbecue.
When one pirate”s gun accidentally went off and narrowly missed the boat”s doctor he was sent off for "carelessness".
The only violence was when one pirate shot another dead in a row over drugs.
The mostly French crew, who are returning home, said the pirates never abused them.
One told French newspaper France-Soir: "We really didn”t have a bad time at all.
"At first it was frightening when men with guns boarded but we soon realised they were pretty nice guys. They were calm and polite and hardly even raised their voices.
Luckily they got what they wanted and left, because they didn”t look like they really wanted to kill us."
The raiders boarded Le Ponant two weeks ago off Somalia as it headed from the Seychelles to the Suez Canal.
They were tracked at a distance by a French warship.
The owners paid £1million ransom and the pirates fled in speedboats.
But they were seized by French commandos in their village and flown to Paris. Investigators there are questioning the men, aged 25 to 40, who face trial for piracy.
A judicial source said yesterday: "They illegally occupied a vessel. Being “nice” while committing a crime is no excuse."
Pirates seized more than two dozen ships off Somalia last year, despite international navy patrols.
France said it plans to lead anti-piracy measures to protect wealthy vessels in the Gulf of Aden.
NO sexual assaults on women hostages
NO shouting loudly at prisoners
ALLOW them to use the toilet
GIVE hostages food and drink regularly
LET them sleep when they want
© 2008 Mirror Group Ltd
Somali Pirates Undergo Questioning in Paris Over Yacht Seizure
AFP (North European Service)
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Pirates stand on an upper deck of the luxury yacht "Ponant" after it was seized off the Somali coast April 4, 2008.
"Pirates Used “Good Conduct Guide” in French Yacht Siege: Source" -- AFP headline
PARIS, April 17, 2008 (AFP) - The Somali pirates who seized a French luxury yacht followed a strict "good conduct guide" that forbade sexual assault on women hostages, a judicial source said here Thursday.
French investigators found a copy of the guide on the Ponant when they boarded the vessel after its 30-strong crew were freed last Friday after a ransom reported to be around two million dollars was paid, the source said.
The source did not give details of whether the "good conduct guide" was a printed or handwritten text.
Investigators in Paris have been questioning six men captured by French special forces on Somali territory just after the crew”s liberation and brought to France on Monday to face possible trial for piracy.
A picture of the pirates” world began to emerge Thursday when the judicial source relayed the initial results of interrogations of the men, who range in age from 25 to 40.
"We are in the presence of a sea militia, a gang which has a leader, is given shelter by villagers who feed them and supply them with khat (a mild narcotic plant popular in East Africa)," said the source.
Of the six Somali prisoners being questioned through interpreters in Paris, two are believed to be members of the "militia" and three are villagers, said the source.
The other one is the driver of the vehicle in which the French Special Forces captured them in a dramatic helicopter raid that also netted bags thought to contain part of the ransom, he said.
But the governor of the Mudug region of Somalia where the raid was carried out said Thursday that four of the men were innocent and were simply khat traders selling their goods to the two pirates.
The Paris source said the detained men recounted how in early April, members of the militia borrowed two speedboats from villagers, saying they wanted to go fishing and defend their territorial waters.
"They first went on board a Yemeni trawler which had a 27-strong crew whom they took hostage," said the source. That vessel became their base ship.
On April 4 they were sailing through the Gulf of Aden when they spotted the three-masted Ponant, a 32-cabin yacht sailing with only crew on board to the Mediterranean from the Seychelles.
The pirates thought they had hit the jackpot, according to the testimony as related by the legal source.
Three of the pirates took a speedboat and headed for the Ponant. They fired their automatic weapons when the crew of the Ponant try to repulse them with firehoses.
Another speedboat with six pirates aboard joined the first three pirates and together they swarmed on board the yacht, the legal source said.
The Yemeni trawler and its crew were abandoned, their value fading against a potentially huge ransom for the crew of the luxury yacht -- 22 French, six Filipinos, a Cameroonian and a Ukrainian.
The pirates quickly took control of the Ponant. The female crew members were put in a hold and kept there for the first two days of what was to be a week-long captivity.
The yacht, with the pirates at the helm, set sail for Garaad, a village in Somalia”s northern breakaway region of Puntland, with French navy vessels following at a discreet distance.
When it arrived two days later, about 70 villagers turned up to offer their services for guarding the boat and its crew, according to the testimony relayed by the legal source.
For fear of attacks by rival clans, machine guns were brought on board the Ponant.
A total of up to 30 people -- pirates and villagers -- would take turns at guard duty on the French yacht. Over the next few days the pirates started settling in, bringing goats on board and holding a barbecue.
The pirates tried to enforce discipline. When a pirate”s gun went off accidentally and the Ponant”s doctor narrowly avoided being shot, the gang leader immediately sent the guilty party off the ship, the judicial source said.
The crew have told media since their liberation that the pirates did not at any point abuse them.
But the pirates” discipline sometimes broke down. A pirate at one point shot dead a villager when he he refused to give him khat.
The ransom was eventually fixed at two million dollars. Each villager was promised 50 dollars, and each of the pirates between 11 and 20,000 dollars. The money was handed over to the pirates last Friday and the crew released and taken on board French navy ships before being flown to Paris.
But shortly after the money was handed over, the French Special Forces carried out the raid that netted the men now being questioned in Paris.
(Description of Source: Paris AFP in English -- North European Service of independent French press agency Agence France-Presse)
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Somali piracy suspects “under investigation” in France
AFP (Domestic Service)
Friday, April 18, 2008
Paris, 18 April: The six Somalians suspected of taking hostages on the Ponant (luxury yacht) and arrested by French soldiers have been placed under judicial investigation today, Friday, for kidnapping and detention in an organized gang.
The six men, aged 21-46, were to face a custody judge this evening who would rule on their pre-trial detention, as required by the public prosecutor”s office.
All were placed under judicial investigation for "seizing and holding several people hostage with a view to obtaining a ransom", for "thefts" and for "handling stolen goods", all as part of an organized gang, a legal source said.
Just one of the six was also placed under judicial investigation for "hijacking a ship".
These crimes can carry a sentence of life imprisonment.
The six piracy suspects, aged 21-46, were captured by French special forces on Friday (11 April) in Somali territory as they traveled in an off-road vehicle shortly after the release of the 30 members of the luxury yacht”s crew.
Transferred to France on Wednesday (16 April), they spent 48 hours in custody in the Gendarmerie research section in Paris, during which they collaborated with the inquiry, a legal source said.
One of the men, who has been identified by the former hostages, is believed to have taken part in boarding the yacht on 4 April as it cruised the Gulf of Aden, according to the preliminary findings of the inquiry.
Four others are suspected of having held the ship and its crew, once it moored off the village of Gaarad-Ade in the self-proclaimed autonomous region of Puntland (north-east Somalia).
The sixth is said to be the driver of the 4X4 in which they travelled until they were arrested.
(Passage omitted: Around 200,000 dollars found in vehicle, about a tenth of ransom paid by shipowner)
Held initially in administrative detention on French military vessels, the six men were transferred to France on Wednesday even though there is no official agreement with the Somali authorities.
That they were "made available to the justice system" in France, however, is "not marred by any irregularities", the Paris Public Prosecutor”s Office said on Thursday.
According to the account given by the Somalians while they were in custody and reported by a legal source, the pirates belonged to a "maritime militia" supported by villagers and for whom the Ponant was "an Eldorado".
During the seven days they were held hostage, the crew members, 22 French people, six Filipinos, a Ukrainian and a Cameroonian, said they were not maltreated.
As for the other pirates who took part in the hostage-taking, "the likelihood of capturing them is relatively small", a legal source said on Thursday.
(Description of Source: Paris AFP (Domestic Service) in French -- domestic service of independent French press agency)
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