Six Somali men went on trial in a Paris court Tuesday accused of hijacking a sailboat in 2008, and holding the husband-and-wife crew hostage in the hope of a multimillion dollar ransom.
The trial is the first in France to judge alleged pirates, who have made a lucrative business of capturing foreign vessels around the Gulf of Aden and elsewhere.
French navy commandos raided the vessel two weeks later, killing one man and capturing six of the estimated 20 others on board.
The men _ aged between 20 and 36-years old, who describe themselves as fisherman, electricians, students or jobless _ have been brought to France for trial.
The couple were not present for the trial, expected to last until the end of the month.
Of the six men, three are charged with hijacking the vessel and all six charged with taking the couple hostage _ "stopping, kidnapping and sequestering" _ as part of an organized gang with the prospect of receiving a ransom. They risk life in prison if convicted.
Jean-Yves and Bernadette Delanne _ now aged 63, and living in French Polynesia _ were en route to France from Australia when their 16-meter (52.5-foot) sailboat, Carre d'As, was boarded Sept. 2, 2008.
The prosecution claims the hijackers demanded a $4 million ransom, eventually lowered to $2 million, and threatened to kill their two captives if forces intervened. It says the operation was headed by a man named Youssouf Haji Shire, who has evaded capture.
French forces have captured dozens of pirates, turning the majority over to Somalia. A dozen, however, have been brought to France for trial.
Six other men will go on trial May 2012 charged in connection with the April 2008 sea hijacking of the 288-foot (88-meter) luxury sailing yacht, Le Ponant, and holding its 30-member crew hostage. Six others escaped in that operation.