Photo from the French military

A French luxury yacht hijacked by pirates on the coast of Somalia last Friday has highlighted a vast and growing problem in uncontrolled waters. Local bloggers explain that if the pirates get their ransom, attacks will only be encouraged.

The pirates took the thirty, mainly French, crew members hostage last Friday and are negotiating a ransom sum with the French government. The 88-metre Ponant has been directed to the shores of Puntland; a semi-autonomous region in north east Somalia. Meanwhile, the French military has zoned in the boat, and is close enough to launch an attack.

This video was shot by the French marines, who are tracking the boat, on Saturday.

"If this case goes well for the pirates the problem will probably get worse"

Mowliid Haji Abdi is a Somalian journalist based in Puntland:

In the last four months we've seen several cases like this. It didn't used to be so common. These people are not part of a larger organisation [reference to war lords], they're uncontrolled robbers. They can live solely off piracy. It's very lucrative. These pirates are becoming strong. They're making a lot of progress. They're using high quality weapons and they've got GPS- they're very well equipped, and it's very easy.

The last ship they took, they got €450,000 from [in ransom]. But this [the Ponant] has to be the highest profile case so far. If it goes well for them the problem will probably get worse.

The pirates don't usually kill but of course they have done in the past. As far as we know these pirates don't torture or harm their hostages."

"Foreign forces need to help the Puntland government to control the problem"

Abdurahman Warsame, a Somali blogger based in Qatar, has been following the story closely:

These pirates work from Puntland because the government there is too weak to do anything about it. A few years ago the American navy started patrolling the area and numbers did drop. But as people edge more north to avoid them, the pirates follow them. They took the Ponant in northern waters and brought it south to the Puntland shores. There are usually about a dozen of them in two boats. Once they're onboard that's it. The boats they hijack are not armed, whereas the pirates have got AK47s.

There haven't been any fatalities [on the Ponant] yet but things could take a turn for the worse if they're attacked. The problem is that there's nobody after them on the ground, so they have to be attacked by sea, which is extremely dangerous. It's a very difficult balance. One thing that could happen is if foreign forces help the Puntland government to control the problem. Otherwise it's only likely to get worse."

The pirates onboard the Ponant, towing the boats they used to hijack the yacht behind them. Photo from the French military.

This map shows piracy incidents in 2007. The red points show actual attacks and the yellow attempted attacks. The information is compiled by the International Maritime Bureau. Interactive map here.