Page last updated at 10:01 GMT, Saturday, 11 April 2009 11:01 UK

Frenchman dies in Somalia rescue

Florent Lemacon (L) and pirates on board the Tanit on 10 April
Florent Lemacon, left, was killed during the rescue effort

One French hostage has died and four others have been freed in a rescue operation by French troops on a yacht off Somalia, French officials say.

Two pirates were killed in the operation and three were captured, the French presidency said.

Officials said the rescue was launched when talks with the pirates broke down and threats became "more specific".

Two French couples had been seized with a child, who was among those freed from the yacht, Tanit, seized last week.

News of the operation came after a US captain made an unsuccessful overnight bid to escape from another seized vessel off Somalia.

Captain Richard Phillips managed to jump overboard off the lifeboat on which he was being held by pirates, US media reported.

But his attempt to reach a nearby US military ship was thwarted before it could come to his aid.

US troops in the area are continuing to monitor Mr Phillips's situation. He was captured after a struggle on his ship, Maersk Alabama.

Reports said the French rescue operation was not thought to be in the vicinity of the US fleet and the Maersk Alabama.

In another development on Friday, pirates released a Norwegian cargo ship, the Bow Asir, and its crew, the vessel's owners said. The Bow Asir had been held since 26 March.

Victim named

French Defence Minister Herve Morin said the hostage who died was Florent Lemacon, the owner of the Tanit and father of the boy on board.

French army negotiate on April 10, 2009 with the Somali pirates
France's defence minister praised the rescue effort by French troops

"During the operation, a hostage, Florent Lemacon, unfortunately met his death," he said.

"The other four, including the child, are safe and well. The president of the republic and the government offer all their condolences to the family of Florent Lemacon and to his friends and share in their distress."

It is unclear whether Mr Lemacon was killed by his captors, or by a stray French bullet.

Mr Morin also praised the French soldiers for their efforts to free him.

The operation to free those on board the Tanit - the third time French troops have freed hostages from pirates - began late on Thursday, five days after the yacht was seized, the office of President Nicolas Sarkozy said.

Negotiations with the pirates had begun earlier this week, the president's spokesman said.

But when talks broke down troops immobilised the vessel before moving in for an operation that lasted six minutes, the BBC's Emma Jane Kirby reports from Paris.

We have got rid of the television and everything that seemed superfluous to concentrate on what is essential
Florent Lemacon describing his family's journey

"With the threats becoming more and more specific, the pirates refusing the offers made to them and the [yacht] heading towards the coast, an operation to free the hostages was decided upon," the president's spokesman said.

Mr Morin said his country had shown determination to oppose piracy.

"France has shown its determination not to give in to blackmail, [to] prosecute the criminal acts and liberate the hostages every time that a ship under a French flag is captured," he said.

Earlier in the week, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner had left open the possibility that troops could launch an effort to free the French hostages, telling reporters French officials knew the location of the Tanit.

However, it also emerged that the families on board the yacht, which was reported to be heading down to Zanzibar, off the coast of Tanzania, were urged not to travel through the Gulf of Aden.

Escaping consumerism

A spokesman for the French foreign ministry said Florent Lemacon and his wife Chloe were "repeatedly warned" not to travel through the area.

"It is difficult to understand why these warnings were not heeded," spokesman Eric Chevallier said.

The couple had refurbished the Tanit, a 12.5m (41ft) boat, and given up jobs in a bid to escape consumer society and navigate a route along the African coast to Zanzibar.

Speaking to French newspaper Ouest France, Mr Lemacon said they wanted to change their priorities in life.

"We don't want our child to receive the sort of education that the government is concocting for us. We have got rid of the television and everything that seemed superfluous to concentrate on what is essential," he said.

After a lull earlier this year, the Maersk Alabama was the sixth ship to be hijacked off Somalia in the past week.

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