French navy arrests suspected Somali pirates

MOGADISHU (AFP) — The French navy has arrested nine suspected pirates and handed them over to authorities in the breakaway Somali region of Puntland, French officials said Thursday.

French marines in the Gulf of Aden arrested the men when their patrol intercepted two boats on Wednesday in international waters about 100 nautical miles (185 kilometres) off the Somali coast, Paris and local Puntland officials each said.

They found small arms and anti-tank weapons and equipment used to board ships on the vessels, said a statement from the French military in Paris.

Puntland's deputy fisheries minister Abdukadir Muse Yusuf said that "the pirates... dropped all their weapons in the water before they were caught."

The French statement said nine suspects had been arrested, while Somali officials gave the number as eight.

Ths suspects were handed over to Somali authorities who said they would be prosecuted and would be treated according to international conventions, French officials said.

France launched a rescue operation to free a French luxury yacht, Le Ponant, and its 30 crew on April 11, and in September dispatched commandos to release a a French couple seized by pirates aboard their yacht.

Twelve suspected pirates are currently being held in custody by French authorities, although lawyers have argued that Paris has no jurisdiction to try their cases.

France's latest military intervention -- implicitly authorised by a UN Security Council resolution earlier this month -- was welcomed by the authorities in Puntland, where in April a court sentenced 11 people to life imprisonment for piracy.

In a report released Thursday, the International Maritime Bureau said 63 of the 199 piracy incidents recorded worldwide in the first nine months of this year occurred in the waters off war-ravaged Somalia.

IMB director Pottengal Mukundan said piracy in the Gulf of Aden -- an important sea route for oil exports -- was of particular concern.

"It is clear that pirates in the Gulf of Aden believe that they can operate with impunity in attacking vessels -- some of which have included tankers and large bulk carriers," Mukundan said.

Seven NATO ships including several frigates are set to start patrols off the coast of Somalia in the next few days to combat piracy and escort aid ships to the nation, an alliance spokesman said Wednesday.

Aid agencies say at least 2.6 million people in Somalia are facing acute food shortages and warn that the figure could climb to 3.2 million by year-end.

The European Union has also announced plans to send a dozen ships to the maritime region, which are intended to relieve the NATO contingent in December.

The UN Security Council on October 7 urged states to commit naval and air assets to the fight against rampant piracy off lawless Somalia.

The 15-member Council unanimously adopted the French-drafted resolution under Chapter Seven of the UN Charter, which is invoked in cases of threats to international peace and security.

SOURCE: AFP, Thursday, October 23, 2008

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