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October 28, 2009

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Somali pirates: We are holding British couple

Somali pirates said yesterday they had seized a yacht in the Indian Ocean with a British couple aboard and were taking the vessel to the Horn of Africa nation, while the EU Navy said it may have spotted the boat.

"The British couple are in our hands now. We captured them as they were touring in the Indian Ocean," a pirate called Hassan told Reuters. He said the two captives were healthy and ransom demands would follow.

Commander John Harper told Sky News a similar yacht had been spotted by an EU Naval Force Somalia helicopter and that although it was too dark to see the name on the boat, the fact that it was towing two skiffs behind it was suspicious.

"I don't want to raise everybody's hopes but it's the first sighting of a yacht that the EUNF has had so far," he said. "We've got two ships in the area and a helicopter, and we will keep looking."

The Seychelles coastguard said it dispatched aircraft to search for the yacht after receiving a distress signal last Friday and that naval forces from the NATO alliance, European Union and United States, among others, had joined the search.

"We have not traced the yacht yet," Lieutenant Colonel Michael Rosette, who is in charge of the Seychelles coastguard, told a news conference yesterday. "The yacht had only two passengers on board when it left the Seychelles."

The Britons, Paul and Rachel Chandler, both in their fifties, left the Seychelles aboard their 38-foot yacht, Lynn Rival, last Thursday and were believed to be sailing towards the east African coast.

Rosette said that the Seychelles coastguard had no confirmation the yacht had been taken by pirates, "even if the probability of highjacking is high."

"You never believe it is going to be one of those things that happens to your family," the couple's niece Leah Mickleborough told BBC radio.

"All of us as a family are extremely upset by what has happened. We are very distressed and it is such an emotional thing and such a horrible thing to be experiencing," she said.

Rachel Chandler's brother Stephen Collett told ITV News there was little prospect any kidnappers would get a ransom. "I think everything they've got is invested in their boat, so if they have been captured then the pirates have got the boat, which is as much as they're going to find really."

A final message on the couple's blog posted at dawn on Friday morning read: "Please ring Sarah." There has been no communication with the yacht since then.


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