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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Somali Pirates take over Civilian Yacht

“We have captured two old British, a man and woman in the Indian Ocean, they were on a small boat that we have hijacked,”
a pirate called Mohamed Shakir told The Times of London by phone from Haradheere in Somalia.

This is the most recent in the tale of piracy off the coast of Africa, where Somali Pirates have been known to take over container ships for their cargo. This appears to be the first civilian Somali Pirate attack in a ever growing danger zone.

A search is being carried out for a British couple who are feared to have been taken captive by Somali pirates while sailing near the Seychelles.

Paul and Rachel Chandler, aged 58 and 55, of Tunbridge Wells, Kent, were heading for Tanzania in their yacht, the Lynn Rival.

They sent a distress signal on Friday but have not been heard from since.

BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner said his sources believed they were being taken to Somalia.

He said it was thought the couple and their yacht were headed for the port of Haradheere.

'Ransom demands'

A pirate called Hassan told the Reuters news agency: "The British couple are in our hands now. We captured them as they were touring in the Indian Ocean."

The two captives were healthy and ransom demands would follow, he added.

A Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) spokeswoman said it could not confirm whether pirates were involved.

"We are in touch with the family in the UK and the Seychelles coastguards which continues to monitor the situation and has conducted a search of the area," she added.

A spokesman for the Seychelles Coast Guard said they had not heard from the couple, who were out of reach by satellite phone.

He said: "There have been reports that they were hijacked by pirates but no one can prove that. We don't know what has happened and cannot speculate."

The couple's niece Leah Mickleborough said she last saw the couple at her wedding in September.

She told BBC Radio 5 live they were experienced sailors who had lived on their yacht for several years.

She said the family were told on Friday that the distress signal had been set off but switched off again, as if it was an accident.

They were expecting the couple to come into a dock on an island where they could make contact, but were warned by the FCO on Monday that there would be reports of a kidnapping in the media.

"We were fairly confident that maybe it was just an accident," she said.

"All of us in the family are extremely upset by what's happened and we're very distressed.

"We all hope they are OK and this can be resolved easily."

Pirate attacks

Britain's Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said the couple's distress beacon was activated at 2300 BST on Friday.

They were on a 150 nautical-mile passage south-west to the Amirante Islands, en route to Tanzania when they used the Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon.

The route would have taken the couple near Somali waters which are notorious for pirate attacks on ships and smaller boats.

It is understood that there had been pirate activity in the area earlier in the day.

Earlier this year Seychellois officials requested help from the international community to defend their waters.

The Chandlers previously wrote of "the Somali pirate problem" that delayed other voyages to Tanzania.

In a post on their blog in June, the couple wrote: "The seas around the Seychelles are now too rough for the pirates to operate in."

Nick Davis, Merchant Maritime Warfare Centre, said the waters around the Seychelles had become one of the most dangerous areas in the world for piracy since warships had moved into the Gulf of Aden to protect merchant ships.

In the past few weeks pirates have taken a fishing boat, container ship and cargo dry bulk carrier.

A Navy spokesman said the Davenport-based frigates HMS Cumberland and HMS Cornwall Royal, which are on anti-piracy patrols, are involved in the search.

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