In a rescue operation that went horribly wrong for the cruising sailors held hostage by Somali pirates, the skipper of a yacht has been killed during the attempted rescue.
Two pirates were also killed when a French special forces unit attacked the hijacked vessel as it drifted toward the Somali coast. The pirates opened fire and the special forces team fired back at them.
Four other hostages, including the killed sailor's wife and three-year-old child, were freed from the hijacked yacht after almost a week of being held captive, French officials said. The yacht had been seized on Saturday 400-500 miles off the Somali coastline and heading for the coast of Kenya – NOT in the Gulf of Aden as reported incorrectly in some of the world's press.
The French military attempted the rescue operation after the pirates refused the French government's offers, including an offer to exchange an officer for the mother and child held aboard.
Killed was Florent Lemacon, who was sailing their yacht Tanit with his wife Chloe and their son, Colin and another couple.
In a statement, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said France won't pay blackmail to pirates, Defense News reported.
'Today (Friday) with the threats becoming more and more specific, the pirates refusing the offers made to them and the Tanit heading towards the coast, a operation to free the hostages was decided upon,' said a spokesman for President Nicolas Sarkozy.
French chief of defence staff General Jean-Louis Georgelin said Lemacon died in crossfire between the pirates and the elite troops when they 'went down into the cabins,' adding that the pirates were using Kalashnikov assault rifles.
Yacht Tanit taken hostage - .. .
'Three pirates visible on the deck were neutralised,' he said. 'Two of them died instantaneously and the third fell into the water.'
Defence Minister Herve Morin said that an investigation has been launched into the death. French troops had immobilised the yacht on Thursday by firing into the sails, said Morin. Negotiators had done everything they could to reach an agreement with the pirates, he said. 'We even offered them a ransom.'
The French couple Chloe and Florent Lemacon had left France with their son Colin, then two years old, aboard the 42ft flush-decked Colin Archer cutter and picked up another couple along the way. They were planning to sail via Kenya.
The boat was seized mid-ocean, about 500 miles from the Somali coast and about 1,000 miles from the Seychelles. Florent Lemacon had told his father just before the attack that they had lost the use of the engine. They said that they knew the risks and had taken what they considered to be the least dangerous route through the northern Indian Ocean. Unluckily for them the pirates seem now to have turned their attention southward, just where they were sailing.
Three-year-old Colin - .. .
The father also told French press that that the crew were experienced sailors who knew the risks. He added that they are penniless, unemployed liveaboards with no means of paying a ransom.
Writing on their internet blog two weeks before the hijacking, Chloe and Florent Lemacon said that they had started sailing with the lights off to avoid detection. 'We are in the middle of the piracy zone, but so far there is nothing to report.
'The danger is there and has indeed become greater over the past months, but the ocean is vast. The pirates must not be allowed to destroy our dream,' they wrote.
The French navy had strongly advised Tanit's crew against travelling to Kenya and warned them of the serious risk posed by pirates in the waters off the coast of Somalia, an army spokesman said.
'They met the crew of the surveillance ship Floreal on March 20 and were strongly advised not to pursue the trip to Kenya, even at great distance from the Somali coast, said army spokesman Christophe Prazuck.
Chloe Lemacon, now left widowed after the ’rescue’ - .. .
An email message was sent to Tanit on March 27 stating that sailing to Kenya was 'very dangerous' due to a spike in the number of pirate attacks.
France is the only country so far to have intervened successfully for attacked yachts, having used commando type operations to release two previous yachts without any loss of life of the hostages.