Hostage dies as French attack Somali pirates

French commandos last year training for operations against pirates.
A French hostage and two pirates died Friday in a rescue operation off Somalia’s coastline, the French president’s office in Paris said Friday.

Four hostages, including a child, were freed from the hijacked yacht after almost a week of captivity, Nicolas Sarkozy’s office said. The French military decided to move in when pirates refused their offers and increased threats against the hostages, it said. The four adults and a child had been held aboard their yacht, the Tanit, since it was seized in the Gulf of Aden on Saturday, the president’s statement said. There has been a series of high-profile and increasingly sophisticated pirate attacks in recent months. Also off Somalia this week, the cargo vessel Maersk Alabama was boarded by pirates, who briefly took control of the ship.

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Although the crew retook the ship, its captain, Richard Phillips, was Friday still being held by the gang holed up in a lifeboat. The Maersk was hijacked some 350 miles off Somalia’s coast, a distance that used to be considered safe for ships navigating in the pirate-infested waters. International navies have increased patrols in the area but the region is so large the pirates can still operate. The U.S. military warned earlier this week that recent attacks have occurred hundreds of miles off the coast, suggesting that pirates are using “mother ships” — a practice of using bigger boats with longer range to launch smaller pirate ships against targets further out to sea. Last year, Somali pirates seized another French luxury yacht and the French military launched an operation that ended with them chasing the gang across the desert.