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A couple of French yachtsmen disappeared off the coast of Yemen. Act of piracy? (caps3)

(credit: lesroulbaraka2010)

(BRUSSELS2) It was an SOS launched by radio – Thursday (September 8) – which launched the alert. The French sailboat “Tribal Kat” was then about 120 miles from the Yemeni coast. But when sailors from the FS Bayern – the German frigate which is part of the European anti-piracy force Eunavfor Atalanta – located the ship and arrived on site in the early hours of Friday (September 9), there was no one there. “ Upon inspection of the ship, no one was on board. The destination of its occupants was unknown until now » we confirm at Atalanta HQ in London. A rather worrying disappearance which immediately brings to mind an attack by Somali pirates.

Confusing Circumstances

The circumstances are initially quite confusing: we are talking about 4 people on board then only 2. On the side of the Yemeni coast guard, we are in fact talking about two French boats leaving Aden, one with a couple, the other with 4 passengers. The couple reportedly left the port of Aden on September 4 after a tour of the city of Aden which began on August 19 (*). It would be made up of a former Royal and his wife, C. and E. Colombo, originally from the Var, who had decided to leave everything in November 2008 to travel around the world, as our colleagues at France Info : first the Caribbean and Panama, then the Red Sea; they were sailing towards Malaysia.

The first elements of the investigation – revealed by the daily “Le Parisien" - speak " traces of blood and bullet holes » found on board. Which could imply a hostage taking. “ The sailboat will be towed to Djibouti to be examined by DGSE experts “says the daily. Circumstances rather worrying and which let us fear the worst. But, on the Yemeni side, we wanted to be reassuring. The deputy head of the Yemeni coast guard, Colonel Abdul-Rahman Musa, specified (Friday) that " the couple had been saved by a military ship of friendly forces. The sailboat had suffered from a technical problem (**).

Possible hacker attack

Given the area, we can only immediately think of an attack by Somali pirates, who are locking the coasts between Somalia and Oman, as shown by the latest intervention by the Oman navy. Scalded by the latest operations with sailboats (the French Tanit, the American SY Quest, etc.), too slow to tow and above all very visible, the pirates were able to change tactics and preferred to take what had the most “market value” : the people.

Confirmed attack on the military side but false rumors of release

According to military maritime sources, obtained by B2, it is confirmed that a sailboat was indeed pirated on Thursday September 8 in the area concerned, at 15° North and 52° East. The alert was given around 19:00 p.m. in the evening. But on the French side, we refuse to officially confirm this act of piracy or a possible rescue (**). “ We verify. Until we have confirmation or claim, we cannot confirm this fact » explains a French official. At the Quai d'Orsay, we also remain very cautious about the announcement relayed by the press on Saturday: of a successful rescue: " We must verify that the couple found is indeed the missing couple ».

On the Atalanta HQ side, we refuse to confirm that sailors would have been picked up by a ship from the operation. On the contrary… At the French General Staff, we also remain on the alert, “LThe matter is being followed carefully. We have taken precautionary measures”. We remain discreet about the nature of the measures taken. But we can think that several of the ships engaged in the sector, such as the Surcouf, or other troops based in particular in Djibouti, are put on alert. The objective is then to get hold of possible kidnappers before they reach the Somali coast.

One crew member recovered safely on Saturday

(Maj. Sat 20:30 p.m. and 21:30 p.m.) It’s done at least for one of the crew members. Read : Tribal Kat crew member recovered safe and sound on Saturday

(*) Yemen is not really the ideal place for tourism during this period of unrest.

(**) (Maj Sat. 19 p.m. and 20 p.m.) In fact, the Yemeni coast guard relied on the recovery of the ship to announce that the couple was safe and sound. This information from the Yemeni agency Sabanews was then repeated repeatedly, without verification, by the press (AFP, Parisien, France24, etc.) and often dated not from Friday as originally but from Saturday. Which introduced some confusion, including in official ranks. These remained all the more discreet as several recovery operations were underway. It took several hours for reality to return to reality. There was no couple found, at least immediately, as the Yemenis said. Fake good news then. But some real good news actually arrived in the evening, confirmed by the European anti-piracy HQ.

Read also: Muscular intervention of the Navy of Oman

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

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