In Search Of Pirates Off The Coast Of Somalia

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Pirates have commandeered tankers full of oil and even boarded cruise ships to make a buck. But international police forces are hot in pursuit. From aboard a French frigate, a view of the hunt for pirates in the Gulf of Aden.


From NPR News, it's Day to Day. Piracy does not take a break for the holidays. Today, a German warship dispatched a helicopter to chase away pirates who were trying to board an Egyptian ship off the coast of Somalia. This year, Somali pirates have made an estimated $30 million highjacking ships for ransom. A French frigate is currently escorting ships towards the Red Sea to protect them from pirates. NPR's Corey Flintoff is aboard that frigate, and he sends us this Christmas day postcard.

COREY FLINTOFF: The officers' ward room on the frigate, Premier Maitre L'Her, has taken on a festive air with the addition of some Christmas bulbs and sparkly bunting. There are even a few Santa hats to be passed from person to person as the mood strikes them. Everyone on board is looking forward to a special meal, which is a pretty tall order for a ship's company that prides itself on good food, day in and day out. This is a ship, after all, where crusty baguettes are baked fresh everyday and where the occasional glass of good wine is very much appreciated. This is the traditional call that everyone has been waiting for.

Unidentified Man: (French spoken)

FLINTOFF: The captain is served. That signal from the chef calls everyone to the table for a meal that starts with pate de foie gras and a nice white wine. The chef, Petty Officer Johnny Francois(ph), has a lengthy menu.

Mr. JOHNNY FRANCOIS (Chef, Premier Maitre L'Her): (French spoken)

FLINTOFF: The entree is venison in a red wine sauce followed by a cheese course and the traditional French Christmas cake, Buche de Noel, not to mention a glass or two of champagne. The captain, Alexis Beatriz, says part of his mission is to preserve morale among a crew that has to be constantly ready to go into action against pirates here in the most dangerous part of the Gulf of Aden. On Christmas Eve, that means...

Lieutenant Commander ALEXIZ BEATRIZ (Captain, Premier Maitre L'Her): Good food like the food he would have at home with his family and we also authorize (unintelligible) special occasion to drink one glass of wine or something like that. ..TEXT: FLINTOFF: Up on deck, Petty Officer Ben Mellione(ph) says the cook went out of his way to make a special meal for the enlisted men. Even with the holiday food, though, Mellione says he keeps an eye on the morale of the youngest sailors in the crew, making sure they're not suffering from homesickness.

Mr. BEN MELLIONE (Petty Officer, Premier Maitre L'Her): We keep a sharp lookout after them because some of the youngest ones may have the bad feelings because they miss their families.

FLINTOFF: Outside, the rolling waters of the gulf are streaked by the lights of a half dozen merchant vessels that the frigate is shepherding toward the Red Sea. They range from a supertanker that towers up from the sea like a ten-story building to a small tanker so low in the water it looks as if pirates could simply jump aboard. The vestiges of the meal are quickly cleared away, and the decorations are taken down. Christmas day is just one more day of duty for the sailors aboard the French frigate Premier Maitre L'Her. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, the Gulf of Aden.

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