PARIS, FRANCE - French special forces stormed a yacht taken over by Somali pirates, but one of the hostages and two pirates were killed in the operation, officials said.
The operation was launched after talks to end the six-day old hostage drama broke down. The dead man was the owner of the yacht and father of a three-year -old child who had been among the five French hostages. The child and three other adults on the yacht, the Tanit, were all safe, officials said.
'Today (Friday) with the threats becoming more and more specific, the pirates refusing the offers made to them and the Tanit heading towards the coast, a operation to free the hostages was decided upon,' said a spokesman for President Nicolas Sarkozy.
'During the operation, an hostage was unfortunately killed. The four others - including the child - are safe and sound. Two pirates were killed, the three others were captured,' said the spokesman.
Defence Minister Herve Morin named the dead man as Florent Lemacon, the owner of the yacht. He was hit during an exchange of fire between the pirates and French forces, said Mr Morin. An investigation has been launched into the death.
French troops immobilised the yacht on Thursday by firing into the sails, said Mr Morin. Negotiators had done everything they could to reach an agreement with the pirates, he said. 'We even offered them a ransom.' French commandos had also offered to send one of their officers over as a hostage if the child and her mother were freed, but this too was refused by the pirates, said Mr Morin.
'All these things were permanently and constantly refused.' The Tanit, with four adults and the child on board, was captured in the Gulf of Aden on Saturday.
French chief of defence staff General Jean-Louis Georgelin said Mr Lemacon died in crossfire between the pirates and the elite troops when they 'went down into the cabins,' adding that the pirates were using Kalashnikov assault rifles.
'Three pirates visible on the deck were neutralised,' he said. 'Two of them died instantaneously and the third fell into the water.' The Lemacons, who had set sail for Zanzibar with their son had repeatedly been warned to avoid the Somali coast before their boat was hijacked, French officials said.
The piracy monitoring group Ecoterra International said the hijacking took place some 640 kilometres off the coast of Ras Hafun, northeast Somalia.