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France has no contact with hijacked ship: minister
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France have not had any contact with the suspected pirates who seized a French luxury cruise ship Friday off the coast of Somalia and who are holding 30 crew members, Defense Minister Herve Morin said Saturday.

"We have had no contact, neither with the ship's crew, nor with the pirates," since the incident, the minister said on France Inter radio in response to a question on whether there have been any ransom demands, something that's usual with pirates operating in the Gulf of Aden, Red Sea and Suez Canal.

During the radio interview, the minister had declined to divulge any details regarding the plans of the authorities after the activation of France's "Pirate Alert Plan" which the prime minister's office announced Friday.

The plan notably includes placing elite military units trained specifically to intervene against pirates such as the Marine Commandos, including some detachments that are normally stationed on French Navy vessels, and the Paris-based National Gendarmerie Intervention Group on a state of alert.

In addition, the plan, according to French diplomatic sources, requires France to contact allies with a presence or operating in the zone where the specific incident occurred with a view to coordinating efforts.

In his remarks, the defense minister said that Le Ponant, an 88 meters long cruise yacht, was always being closely followed by a French patrol boat, which was operating in the area under the auspices of the United States-led "Task Force 150" anti-terrorist operations.

"In this cases, what happens usually is that the pirates would always seek to enter the Somali territorial waters and it is then that sometimes there are specific demands, which quite often include ransom," said Morin.

Meanwhile, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon has said that the priority was to ensure the "protection of the life" of the crew members of the hijacked cruiser and that the country will do everything to try to resolve the crisis without resorting to the " use of force."

"Our foremost preoccupation is to protect the lives of all the persons who are on board. This means that all channels are open to try to resolve this matter by trying not to use force," the prime minister was quoted as saying Saturday.

(Xinhua News Agency April 6, 2008)

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