French move to charge adventurers

French politicians are debating whether to make yachtsmen pay for their own rescue when they run into trouble. They could be seen as adventurers ‘taking unnecessary risks overseas.’

The proposed law, put forward by a government tired of having to foot the bill, would enable the state to demand reimbursement for ‘all or part of the costs … of foreign rescue operations’ if it deems that travellers had ventured knowingly and without ‘legitimate motive’ into risky territory.

According to the foreign ministry, the bill is an attempt to encourage a ‘culture of responsibility’ among travellers at a time of kidnappings, hijackings and civil instability across the world. The ministry hopes that the prospect of being saddled with paying costs such as emergency air fares home will make people think twice about venturing into territory classified as dangerous.

Several French-led overseas missions in recent years have sparked debate over who should shoulder the financial burden for holidays gone drastically wrong.

Last year, several French yachts were hijacked by pirates off Somalia, with one of the commando raids culminating in a man, Florent Lemacon, being killed. Officials expressed exasperation that the sailors had been warned repeatedly of the region’s dangers but sailed on nonetheless.

Similar steps have been taken by other countries, including Germany, where last year a court ruled that a German backpacker taken hostage in Colombia in 2003 should pay £10,775 to cover the cost of her helicopter rescue.

It is unclear to what extent the French law would affect adventure seekers and extreme sports participants, whose daring exploits and dramatic rescue stories provoke sporadic rows over whether the taxpayer should foot the bill for the recklessness of a minority.

Last month Australia and France paid for the return of Abby Sunderland, the teenage sailor who got lost at sea and whose rescue is estimated to have cost up to £116,000.

In 2008 a French frigate was sent to rescue Yann Elies, injured in the Vendee Globe race in the Southern Ocean. The cost was £480,000.