Saturday, September 10, 2011

Missing French couple saved by coalition forces: Yemen

Sana'a, September 10, 2011

A French couple who went missing in the Gulf of Aden off the Yemen coast have been rescued by coalition forces operating in international waters, a top Yemeni coast guard official has said.

"The tourist yacht had a technical problem 120 miles (193 kilometres) offshore in international waters and called for help," said a statement carried late Friday by Yemen's official news agency Saba.

"The tourist and his wife were rescued by a special boat belonging to one of the military ships of the friendly coalition forces present in the international waters," said the deputy director of the Gulf of Aden coast guard, Colonel Abdulrahman al-Musa.

The French daily Le Parisien has reported that the pair were from the country's southeastern Var region and were on a round-the-world voyage.

The French yacht which arrived on August 19 in Aden and then departed from the southern port on September 4 after the couple visited the city, Musa added.

But he did not mention another French catamaran which too has gone missing in the Gulf of Aden.

International authorities on Friday found the catamaran adrift in pirate-infested waters in the Gulf of Aden with no one on board, a source close to the probe said.

A German frigate, responding to a mayday call, discovered the empty yacht and it was towed to Djibouti where "suspicious marks" on the vessel are to be studied by agents of France's DGSE spy agency.

The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said four people had been on the yacht.

A Yemeni official previously told AFP that two yachts with a total of six French citizens aboard had entered Yemeni territorial waters on August 19 and left September 4.

French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said the crew of the catamaran issued a mayday signal but by the time the German frigate Bayern arrived there was nobody on board.

"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 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.

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.

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