- Somali pirates holding a German couple, their young son and a French boat captain hostage are demanding a $1 million ransom for release of the captives.
The four tourists were abducted on Monday from their yacht off the Gulf of Aden and allegedly whisked to Puntland, a supposedly independent region in northern Somalia, where they are believed to be held hostage.
Kidnapping is said to be the first instance where sea robbers snatched a small vessel ferrying a non-militant crew. Reports have mentioned that the young son of the abducted couple is reportedly feverish and thus requiring urgent medical attention.
Further reports said the pirates have announced that they released the French captain and only kidnapped the German family.
It is still not clear what the condition of the captives is and Somali government is said to be taking the case "very seriously."
Puntland minister of security, Jama Hersi Farah, has said government has send out a group of traditional elders to negotiate release of victims with hijackers.
"Kidnappers told elders that they want ransom for the tourists," Mr Farah said, adding that Puntland government has strict regulations prohibiting ransom payments. According to him, officials from breakaway region of Somaliland "have no business in this matter."
Kidnappings and piracy are on rise in Somalia, and kidnappers are said to often demand huge ransoms for release of captives. Heavily armed pirates, who hold crews for ransom, have targeted cargo ships and one luxury yacht.
In earlier statements, Puntland security officials have accused ship owners for paying ransom to pirates, saying that only encourages more piracy.
District commissioner of Las Korey area, Yusuf Jama Dabeed, has said that Puntland troops have found captives' boat abandoned on shore, leaving no clear indication as to what actually happened to them.
Aqil Abshir Qadi, a clan elder in the area, said he sent 200 clan militiamen into the mountains. "Our aim is to put pressure on kidnappers," he said. "If they refuse to release Europeans we will use force. But we are trying to solve issue through dialogue."
It is believed that the kidnapping was an opportunistic action that involved both pirates and local fishermen. 'The foreigners invaded our waters,' a spokesperson for group holding German family had said.
German foreign office said that it was making attempts to find more information on the kidnapping. German Embassy in neighboring Kenya reportedly referred calls to Berlin, where officials could not immediately comment.
Most high-profile case in recent months involved capture of a luxury French yacht in April and its professional crew. French troops rescued hostages and captured six of the pirates, although another six are believed to have escaped.
UN Security Council recently approved incursions into Somali waters to curb piracy, which the transitional government, currently engaged in countering a bloody insurgency, seem powerless to prevent.
Somalia, a country without a proper functioning government since the overthrow of Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, has been seriously affected by piracy on its waters. In recent months, French navy is said to have been patrolling on Somalia's coastline.
Since beginning of 2008, more than two-dozen pirate attacks were reported on Gulf of Aden, with nine of them carried out to completion.
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