NAIROBI – Somali pirates hijacked yet another ship on Wednesday and a maritime group said two French tourists kidnapped at sea a week ago were being held by gunmen demanding a ransom of more than $1.4 million.
Seoul’s Yonhap news agency said a South Korean cargo ship had been seized off the coast of Somalia. It said its crew included nine South Koreans, but had no other immediate details.
The East African Seafarers’ Assistance Programme named the French couple captured off the lawless Horn of Africa nation on September 3 as Jean-Yves Delanne and his wife Bernardette. It said their luxury yacht was now being used to hunt more victims.
“Reports directly from Somalia indicate that the hostages were dropped at the Somali coast near Alula … from where part of the gang have dragged them to a remote hideout in the Xaabo mountains,” the Kenya-based maritime group said in a statement.
It said the kidnappers were demanding a ransom “in excess” of $1.4 million to free the two hostages.
It said they also wanted the release of six fellow pirates seized in the area in April during a helicopter raid by French commandos after another French yacht was hijacked.
“Naval operations or military interventions most likely will risk the lives of the hostages,” the group warned.
Heavily armed Somali gunmen have seized more than 30 vessels so far this year, making the busy shipping lanes through the Gulf of Aden the most dangerous in the world.
They are holding 10 ships for ransom and about 130 crew.
The Seafarers’ Assistance Programme said the French couple’s yacht, the 24 metre (79 foot) twin-masted Carre D’as IV, was now being used by pirates to launch fresh attacks.
“It might very well be used as a decoy to approach other unsuspecting yachts or simulate and signal an engine failure or other emergency at sea, whereby it then would attack any ship coming closer in order to provide assistance,” it said.
The maritime group said the yacht might be accompanied by a smaller speedboat crewed by between five and seven gang members armed with machineguns, bazookas and rocket-propelled grenades.
“Such attack boats deliver a swift and heavy assault,” it said. If either craft was spotted, the group warned, vessels should try to escape immediately while preparing to be boarded.
Violence at sea has escalated as Somalia collapses into its worst insecurity for 17 years and a devastating humanitarian crisis. The impoverished nation has not had a working government since warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.
The Seafarers’ Assistance Programme said shipping companies had been told for years not to pay ransoms to the pirates, but that the owners of illegal cargos had routinely done so.
“Now the renegade pirate groups got used to that, became much more sophisticated and the problem is spiralling out of any proportion,” it said.