SHARE
COPY LINK

YEMEN

Crew of French yacht missing off Yemen

A German warship has found a French catamaran adrift in pirate-infested waters in the Gulf of Aden off Yemen with no crew aboard. Their fate is unknown, France said on Friday.

A source close to the probe, speaking on condition of anonymity, said four people had been on the yacht, now being towed to Djibouti where “suspicious marks” are to be studied by agents of France’s DGSE spy agency.  

Foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said the crew issued a mayday signal, but by the time the frigate Bayern arrived the crew had disappeared.  

“Following the alert from the crew, we asked our German partners to send one of their ships taking part in Operation Atalanta,” Valero said, referring to the EU anti-piracy mission off Somalia.  

The 5,600-ton German warship found the yacht, but “no-one was on board and we have no certainty about how many people had been aboard nor what may have become of the crew of the catamaran.”  

Atalanta spokesman Commander Harrie Harrison told AFP that the operation was “investigating and trying to work out why the yacht was empty.  

“The next of kin details are yet to be confirmed, and we’re obviously waiting for that confirmation. We’re monitoring and doing what we can,” he added. The German defence ministry had no further details.  

A Yemeni coastguard official said two yachts with a total of six French citizens aboard had entered Yemeni territorial waters on August 19th and had left on September 4th.  

The official, who also asked not to be named, said he had heard that “international forces on Friday found one of the two yachts off the coast of Ras Sartak” near the border with Oman.  

While officials would not speculate on the fate of the missing crew, 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.  

On Wednesday, Denmark announced the release of a Danish family more than seven months after they had been kidnapped by Somali pirates. A maritime monitoring group and local sources said a large ransom had been paid.  

A British couple, Paul and Rachel Chandler, were seized by pirates in October 2009 as they sailed from the Seychelles to Tanzania and were held for around 13 months.  

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 ransoms for their release.  

According to the watchdog Ecoterra, at least 50 vessels and at least 528 hostages are currently 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 boast 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.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

YEMEN

French firm strikes Saudi weapons deal despite Yemen pressure

Saudi Arabia's state arms producer and a French government-majority firm signed an agreement Sunday on a joint venture to boost the kingdom's navy, amid calls to halt weapons sales to Riyadh over it role in Yemen.

French firm strikes Saudi weapons deal despite Yemen pressure
Saudi hovercraft participate in last year's "Gulf Shield 1" military drills. Photo: Bandar Al-Jaloud/Saudi Royal Palace/AFP

The memorandum of understanding between Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI) and France's Naval Group is aimed at providing the oil-rich Gulf state's navy with “state-of-the-art systems”, a statement said.  

“Through design, construction, and maintenance activities, the joint venture will contribute significantly to further enhancing the capabilities and readiness of our Royal Saudi Naval Forces,” SAMI boss Andreas Schwer said.

A spokeswoman for Naval Group — which is owned by the French state and French multinational giant Thales — refused to give any more details.    

French lawmakers and rights groups have repeatedly called on France's government to suspend all arms deals to Riyadh because of the war in Yemen, where some 10,000 people have been killed since a Saudi-led coalition intervened in 2015.  

Riyadh is battling on the side of the internationally recognised government against Iran-aligned Huthi rebels, in a conflict that has seen all sides accused of potential war crimes. 

The US House of Representatives this week voted overwhelmingly to end American involvement in Saudi Arabia's war effort in neighbouring Yemen, dealing a rebuke to President Donald Trump and his alliance with the kingdom.

France, one of the world's biggest arms exporters, has sold equipment to Riyadh and fellow coalition member the UAE — notably Caesar artillery guns and ammunition, sniper rifles and armoured vehicles.

OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia has been one of the world's top arms buyers for the past several years.

But in 2017, the kingdom's Public Investment Fund set up SAMI to manufacture arms locally with the fund expecting it to become one of the world's top 25 defence companies by 2030.

Naval Group — which was previously called DCNS — has been embroiled in a long-running graft scandal over the 2002 sale of two Scorpene submarines to Malaysia for $1.2 billion. 

The submarine maker is alleged to have paid more than 114 million euros ($128 million) in kickbacks to a shell company linked to a close associate of ousted Malaysian leader Najib Razak. 

A French investigation launched in 2010 has already led to four French executives involved in the deal being charged. They all deny wrongdoing.

SHOW COMMENTS