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Somali pirates hijack French yacht
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Pirates have stormed a French luxury yacht off the coast of Somalia, taking its 30 crew hostage, prompting Paris to send troops to the area to secure the prisoners' release, Kenya's maritime official confirmed Saturday.

Andrew Mwangura, the coordinator of the East Africa's Seafarers Association, said the ship was heading from the Seychelles to the Mediterranean Sea when it was seized in the Gulf of Aden, between Somalia and Yemen.

"The ill-fated French yacht boat Le Ponant was hijacked some 80 nautical miles north of Alula while under way from Seychelles to the Mediterranean sea," Mwangura told Xinhua.

"It is said that no passengers were on board the vessel when she was seized by the gunmen," he said, adding that most of the crew are French.

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon described it as a blatant act of piracy, and said he hoped the crew would be released as quickly as possible.

"I hope in the coming minutes or hours to try to win the freedom of these hostages," Fillon said. French and allied forces stationed in the area were put under alert.

France has 2,900 troops stationed in Djibouti, which borders Somalia and is on the Gulf of Aden, and also participates in a multinational naval force that patrols this part of the Indian Ocean.

The yacht's owners -- the shipping group CMA CGM -- confirmed that one of its vessels had been seized. The hijacked yacht can take up to 64 passengers and is designed for cruising in some style. It has four decks, two restaurants and also indoor and outdoor luxury lounges.

Pirate attacks regularly disrupt shipping off the Somali coast, according to the International Maritime Bureau, which reported some 31 cases of piracy in the area in 2007.

(Xinhua News Agency April 6, 2008)

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