Tue, Jan 06, 2009 - Page 6 News List

France foils Somali pirate attacks: Paris

ABDUCTED More than 100 attacks occurred in the waters off the coast of the Horn of Africa country last year, with pirates undeterred by the presence of foreign navies

AFP AND AP , PARIS AND MOGADISHU

A French warship on Sunday foiled attempts by Somalian pirates in the Gulf of Aden to seize two cargo vessels and intercepted 19 people, the French president’s office said.

“Three days after a French vessel thwarted an attack on a Panamanian cargo ship,” the frigate Jean de Vienne conducted a “decisive action” against “two new attacks” it said in a statement.

“The 19 Somali pirates who tried to seize the two boats were intercepted,” it added, saying they carried weapons, ammunition and material for boarding ships.

“They will be transferred to the Somali authorities,” it added.

The French defense ministry said pirates attempted to attack a Croatian and a Panamanian ship and that French forces seized assault rifles, two rocket launchers and more than 1,000 liters of oil.

On Thursday, a French warship thwarted an attack by pirates, presumed to be Somalis, on a Panamanian-flagged cargo vessel. They arrested eight suspects to be handed over to the Somali authorities. In October, the French navy handed over nine suspected pirates to the authorities in the breakaway state of Puntland in the northeast of the country.

Another 12 suspected pirates are currently being held in France. They were arrested during two separate operations to free the crew of two French yachts in April and September of last year.

Somalia, which has been ravaged by civil war since 1991, has become a global hotspot for piracy in recent years.

An Islamist militia that briefly controlled most of Somalia in 2006 had all but rooted out piracy but attacks surged again after the hardline movement was ousted by an Ethiopian troop invasion.

More than 100 attacks occurred in the pirate-infested waters off the coast of the lawless Horn of Africa country last year alone.

The pirates have been undeterred by the presence of foreign navies patrolling in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean in a bid to secure one of the world’s busiest shipping routes.

Meanwhile, two foreign journalists — a Briton and a Spaniard — have been released in good health after nearly six weeks in captivity in Somalia, officials said.

The journalists, reporter Colin Freeman, 39, of the Sunday Telegraph and freelance photographer Jose Cendon, 34, were working on a piracy story when they were kidnapped on Nov. 26.

The Sunday Telegraph’s publisher confirmed the two journalists had been freed on Sunday.

“This is wonderful news and we are delighted that the two journalists will soon be reunited with their families, friends and colleagues,” Telegraph Media Group said in a statement in London.

The company would not say whether a ransom had been paid.

In a story published on its Web site, the newspaper quoted Freeman as saying the pair “are absolutely fine ... We’ve absolutely no problems at all ether physically or mentally.”

“We survived on rice, goat meat and Rothmans,” Freeman said, referring to the cigarettes. “I gave up smoking in 1992 and somehow decided now would be a good time to start up again.”

The newspaper said the men were held in caves in the mountains and moved occasionally as their kidnappers tried to dodge rival gangs or the authorities.

Foreigners, journalists and humanitarian workers are frequently abducted for ransoms in the Horn of Africa nation. The Associated Press did not previously identify the two journalists out of concern for their safety.

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