Couple asleep as Somali pirates hijacked yacht

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) - October 29, 2009

Paul Chandler told Britain's ITV News that he and his wife were being held aboard a container ship anchored about a mile from the Somali coast.

"They kept asking for money and took everything of value on the boat," Chandler said in the interview, before the connection was lost.

Chandler later told the BBC in a telephone interview broadcast Thursday that he is being treated well by his captors.

"We are well, and being looked after OK," Chandler said in a telephone interview with the BBC's Somali Service. "Food is OK," he said.

But he did not appear to be able to speak freely.

Asked whether he was in Somalia, he said: "I can't answer that," and responding to a question about whether he had a message for British officials, he said there was "nothing I can say."

A fisherman told The Associated Press he saw two boats carrying eight pirates and a white couple that had arrived in the village of Ceel Huur.

Dahir Dabadhahan said a convoy of around 30 other pirates in six luxury vehicles met the group in front of fishermen preparing their boats of the day, he said.

"The pirates opened fire into the air, waving us to move away," he said.

Ceel Huur is just north of a notorious pirate stronghold in the town of Haradhere.

Earlier Thursday, the British navy had found the couple's empty yacht in international waters. Warships have been searching for Paul and Rachel Chandler since their yacht, the Lynn Rival, sent out a distress signal last Friday.

Relatives of the British couple pleaded for their release and said the pirates had targeted the wrong people.

"They are not a wealthy couple. They just wanted to take early retirement, to take a boat and to see more of the world," said Paul Chandler's sister, Jill Marshment, 69, of Bredon.

The couple, who have been married for 28 years, took early retirement about three years ago and have spent several six-month spells at sea. Their voyages - which have taken them to the Greek islands, Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Oman, Yemen, India, the Maldives and the Seychelles - have been chronicled on a blog.

According to a blog entry on Oct. 21, the couple planned to set sail the next day and be at sea for eight to 12 days, heading south toward Tanzania.

"We probably won't have satellite phone coverage until we're fairly close to the African coast, so we may be out of touch for some time," they wrote.

Somalia has not had a functioning government for 18 years. The multimillion dollar ransoms the pirates collect are a strong lure for young gunmen in a country where nearly half the population is dependent on aid.

The high-seas hijackings have persisted despite an international armada of warships deployed by the United States, the European Union, NATO, Japan, South Korea and China to patrol the region. Also Thursday, pirates hijacked a Thai fishing vessel north of the Seychelles islands, the European Union Naval Force said.

The Thai Union 3 reported it was under attack by pirates in two skiffs 200 miles (320 kilometers) north of the Seychelles and 650 miles (1050 kilometers) off the Somali coast, according to a press release issued by the headquarters for the EU's Operation Atalanta.

A naval aircraft sent to the scene saw pirates aboard the vessel and two skiffs tied up behind it. The EU force said the ship is now heading toward Somalia.

The latest seizure means pirates are now holding a total of eight ships, four of which were seized in the past two weeks. ---

Lawless reported from London. Associated Press writers Katharine Houreld in Nairobi, Kenya and Jennifer Quinn in London also contributed to this report.


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