PARIS – France dispatched elite commandos to free two French hostages under cover of night, then called on other nations to join in taking decisive action against Somali pirates disrupting commerce and aid operations off the East African coast.
French troops wearing night-vision goggles killed one pirate, captured six others and pulled the French Polynesian couple to safety in an overnight operation described by French President Nicolas Sarkozy in a triumphant press conference.
He pressed other countries to follow his nation's example and take on the pirates instead of negotiating.
"The world cannot accept this. Today, these are no longer isolated cases but a genuine industry of crime," Sarkozy told reporters in Paris. "This industry casts doubt on a fundamental freedom: that of movement and of international commerce."
Sarkozy said piracy in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia has "literally exploded" this year, with some 54 attacks in the heavily trafficked zone so far this year.
He added that Somali pirates are holding 150 people and at least 15 ships, mainly in Eyl, a Somali area that serves as a base for pirates who have been seizing yachts, freighters and fishing boats.
Sarkozy said France will take action in the U.N. Security Council, where it has a permanent seat, to mobilize the international community against piracy.
In June, the U.N. Security Council — pushed by France and the United States — unanimously adopted a resolution that allows the ships of foreign nations that cooperate with the Somali government to enter their territorial waters "for the purpose of repressing acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea."
Somalia doesn't have a navy, and its fragile government has sought international help to fight piracy — saying it doesn't have the resources.
France has gone futher than any other nation in taking on the pirates.
In April, helicopter-borne French troops swooped in on Somali pirates, capturing six of them, after the hijackers released dozens of hostages who had been held on a yacht.
"I call on the other countries of the world to assume their responsibilities, as France has done — twice," Sarkozy said.
About 30 French soldiers took part in Monday night's operation, which freed hostages Jean-Yves and Bernadette Delanne in 10 minutes, Sarkozy said. He added that he had ordered what he called a meticulously planned attack himself.
French military spokesman Cmdr. Christophe Prazuck said the soldiers took the pirates by surprise in the dark. Though the pirates were armed with machine guns and rocket-launchers, none of the French soldiers were hurt, Prazuck said.
On Monday, European Union foreign ministers agreed to set up a special unit within the next few days to coordinate warship patrols to protect shipping from pirates.
Several EU nations have sent warships on their own. A U.S. task force also helps maintain security off Somalia and nearby countries. The U.S. military said last year that a Navy ship fired on pirates who overtook a Danish vessel.
Ships from France, Denmark and the Netherlands, and Canada, also have escorted vessels carrying food aid to Somalia for the United Nations since November.
The World Food Program's director for Somalia told The Associated Press that food shipments could be halted within weeks if no country steps in to replace a Canadian frigate that will leave the coast in less than two weeks.
The Delannes were sailing a friend's boat from Australia to France when they were captured Sept. 2 by pirates in the Gulf of Aden.
Sarkozy said he ordered the rescue when it became clear that the pirates planned to take the hostages to Eyl, where "their captivity could have lasted months."
Sarkozy said he intends to bring the six pirates captured in the overnight assault — now held on a French frigate — to France. But he left open the possibility that Somalia could keep them if "we are certain that these pirates will be tried, sentenced and will serve out their punishments."
The body of the slain pirate will be handed over to Somali authorities, Sarkozy added.
Sarkozy said a ransom demand was made, but not paid.