Somali pirates kidnapped a German family of three and a French captain from a yacht off the Gulf of Aden, officials said Tuesday. Somali security forces launched a rescue mission.

The captives were seized Monday and taken to a mountainous area near Puntland, a semiautonomous region of northern Somalia, said Jama Hirsi Farah, minister of state for security in the region.

"We have sent security forces to conduct rescue efforts," he told The Associated Press by telephone.

The captives are two German parents, their child and the French captain, he said.

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 the kidnappers," he said. "If they refuse to release the Europeans we will use force. But we are trying to solve the issue through dialogue."

The German Embassy in neighboring Kenya referred calls to Berlin, where officials could not immediately comment.

Kidnappings and piracy are on the rise in Somalia, where hijackers demand — and often receive — huge ransoms. The 1,880-mile-long (3,025-kilometer-long) coast, the longest in Africa, is overrun with pirates.

On Saturday, a Somali employee of the U.N. refugee agency was kidnapped outside the capital, Mogadishu.

Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and turned on each other. Since Somalia does not have a navy, France and the United States are drafting a U.N. resolution that would allow international naval vessels into Somali waters.

Thousands of civilians have been killed in Somalia since 2007, caught in vicious disputes over ancient clan loyalties, religion and government. The country has not had an effective central government since 1991, when warlords toppled dictator Siad Barre and carved Somalia into armed camps ruled by clan law.

Somalia's shaky transitional administration was formed in 2004 with the help of the United Nations, but has failed to assert real control. After Islamic militants seized control of Mogadishu and most of southern Somalia, the government called in troops from Ethiopia in December 2006 to oust them.

An insurgency started soon afterward, and remains a potent and disruptive force. Rebels set land mines and attack police posts and the Ethiopian troops respond with deadly force, witnesses say.

The country also is facing a worsening humanitarian crisis aggravated by high global food prices and drought.