Coast guard divers storm boat, free hostages

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NAFPLION, Greece - Elite coast guard divers stormed a sailboat Wednesday, killing a gunman who held five Swiss vacationers and the boat's captain hostage for 14 hours.

All six captives, including a woman in a wheelchair and her toddler son, were unharmed, the Merchant Marine Ministry said. One coast guard officer was wounded in a shootout with the gunman.

The hijacker was identified as Frantisek Vesely, 38, a Czech. He came to Greece through the port of Thessaloniki from Bratislava, Slovakia, in late June, Merchant Marine Minister Christos Papoutsis said.

He hijacked the boat at 6 a.m., forcing it to sail away from the port in Nafplion, about 90 miles south of Athens. He apparently demanded to be taken across the Mediterranean to Casablanca, Morocco.

After slipping his moorings, the boat's captain, Aristidis Kalothis, radioed Nafplion port authorities that the ship had been hijacked.

Coast guard officers trailed the ''Erato,'' which was sailing aimlessly with its mainsail unfurled. Circling the boat on three patrol ships about 1 miles off the port town of Astros, coast guard officers used a bullhorn to communicate with the hijacker, who was able to speak some English.

Divers eventually stormed the boat, killing the gunman during a shootout. One officer was wounded in the stomach while trying to create a diversion during the ambush, Papoutsis said. The officer remained hospitalized in serious condition.

''There was no other choice but to try and save the passengers. It was a successful operation, but there was an exchange of fire,'' Papoutsis said.

The Swiss hostages were identified as Andreas Hagger, 34; his sister, Corinne Hagger-Mitchell, 26; his wife, Gabriela Hagger, 34, who uses a wheelchair; and their children, 5-year-old Jasmin and 3-year-old Joel.

The family left the port after giving a two-hour deposition. They had chartered Kalothis' boat on the island of Poros last week for the second year in a row, sailing south and docking for the night in Nafplion, news reports said.


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