Troops from a Spanish warship boarded a pirate skiff in the Gulf of Aden Saturday and rescued a French hostage missing from her yacht for two days, the EU anti-piracy patrol said.
A second French hostage was not aboard and is still missing. The statement did not identify the rescued hostage, but a French source confirmed to AFP that she was a Frenchwoman and the wife of the second missing sailor.
A German warship, the FGS Bayern, found the couple’s yacht, the Tribal Kat, adrift in waters off Yemen on Thursday. There was no-one on board and the EU Atalanta naval command launched an air and sea search for the attackers.
On Saturday, a Spanish vessel, the SPS Galicia, chased down a motor launch and boarded it.
“One of the crew members was released safely and all of the suspect criminals were detained. The whereabouts of the remaining crew is unknown,” said a statement from the EU naval command.
“The skiff has subsequently sunk, however all persons were safely recovered by a boarding team from SPS Galicia. All are on board the SPS Galicia while investigations continue to determine the facts of the incidents,” it said.
“During the operation the hostage was not wounded or injured,” said the statement, adding “all the suspect criminals were detained unharmed”.
The waters between Yemen and Somalia are notorious for attacks by pirate gangs, and French yachts have been among the vessels seized in the past. A second yacht went missing at around the same time as the Tribal Kat.
Somali pirates frequently seize crew from merchant ships and pleasure craft in the dangerous waters off the conflict-ravaged Horn of Africa and have taken millions of dollars in ransom for their release.
According to the watchdog Ecoterra, at least 50 vessels and at least 528 hostages are being held by Somali pirates, despite constant patrols by warships from several world powers.
A French couple was kidnapped from on board a yacht in September 2008 as it headed through the Gulf of Aden. A ransom was paid, but French commandos later ambushed the pirates, killed one, captured six more and recovered the cash.
In April 2009, another French yacht was seized. This time special forces troops intervened when the boat was still at sea. In the ensuing gunbattle a French bullet accidentally killed the hostage skipper.
In addition, a French DGSE agent is thought to have been held hostage by Islamist militants in the Somali capital since July 2009.