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Pirates Used 'Good Conduct Guide' In French Yacht Siege
French investigators found a copy of the guide on the Ponant when they boarded the vessel after its 30-strong crew were freed last Friday after a ransom reported to be around $2 million was paid, the source said.
The source did not give details of whether the "good conduct guide" was a printed or handwritten text.
Investigators in Paris have been questioning six men captured by French special forces on Somali territory just after the crew's liberation and brought to France on Monday to face possible trial for piracy.
A picture of the pirates' world began to emerge Thursday when the judicial source relayed the initial results of interrogations of the men, who range in age from 25 to 40.
"We are in the presence of a sea militia, a gang which has a leader, is given shelter by villagers who feed them and supply them with khat (a mild narcotic plant popular in East Africa)," said the source.
Of the six Somali prisoners being questioned through interpreters in Paris, two are believed to be members of the "militia" and three are villagers, said the source.
The other one is the driver of the vehicle in which the French special forces captured them in a dramatic helicopter raid that also netted bags thought to contain part of the ransom, he said.
But the governor of the Mugug region of Somalia where the raid was carried out said Thursday that four of the men were innocent and were simply khat traders selling their goods to the two pirates.
The Paris source said the detained men recounted how in early April, members of the militia borrowed two speedboats from villagers, saying they wanted to go fishing and defend their territorial waters.
"They first went on board a Yemeni trawler which had a 27-strong crew whom they took hostage," said the source. That vessel became their base ship.
On April 4 they were sailing through the Gulf of Aden when they spotted the three-masted Ponant, a 32-cabin yacht sailing with only crew on board to the Mediterranean from the Seychelles.
The pirates thought they had hit the jackpot, according to the testimony as related by the legal source.
Three of the pirates took a speedboat and headed for the Ponant. They fired their automatic weapons when the crew of the Ponant tried to repulse them with firehoses.
Another speedboat with six pirates aboard joined the first three pirates and together they swarmed on board the yacht, the legal source said.
The Yemeni trawler and its crew were abandoned, their value fading against a potentially huge ransom for the crew of the luxury yacht -- 22 French, six Filipinos, a Cameroonian and a Ukrainian.
The pirates quickly took control of the Ponant. The female crew members were put in a hold and kept there for the first two days of what was to be a week-long captivity.
The yacht, with the pirates at the helm, set sail for Garaad, a village in Somalia's northern breakaway region of Puntland, with French navy vessels following at a discreet distance.
When it arrived two days later, about 70 villagers turned up to offer their services for guarding the boat and its crew, according to the testimony relayed by the legal source.
For fear of attacks by rival clans, machine guns were brought on board the Ponant.
A total of up to 30 people -- pirates and villagers -- would take turns at guard duty on the French yacht. Over the next few days the pirates started settling in, bringing goats on board and holding a barbecue.
The pirates tried to enforce discipline. When a pirate's gun went off accidentally and the Ponant's doctor narrowly avoided being shot, the gang leader immediately sent the guilty party off the ship, the judicial source said.
The crew have told media since their liberation that the pirates did not at any point abuse them.
But the pirates' discipline sometimes broke down. A pirate at one point shot dead a villager when he refused to give him khat.
The ransom was eventually fixed at $2 million. Each villager was promised $50, and each of the pirates between $11,000 and $20,000. The money was handed over to the pirates last Friday and the crew released and taken on board French navy ships before being flown to Paris.
But shortly after the money was handed over, the French special forces carried out the raid that netted the men now being questioned in Paris.