Pirates haggle over UK couple

November 1, 2009 12:00 am

, LONDON, Nov 1 – Pirates holding a British couple hostage in Somalia are split on whether to demand a ransom or prisoner exchange to free them, one of their captors said on Saturday, as Britain insisted it would not pay for their release.

Paul and Rachel Chandler, who are aged 59 and 55, were sailing near the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean on their yacht the Lynn Rival when pirates seized them on October 23.

Britain’s Foreign Office, which earlier confirmed a $7 million (4.7 million euro) demand, on Saturday ruled out the payment of a ransom.

"We will not make substantive concessions to hostage-takers, and that includes the payment of ransom," it said in a statement.

One of the pirates, Abdi Yare, told AFP the kidnappers were torn between demanding money for the couple or trading them for the release of seven pirates detained by foreign naval forces after an attack on a French fishing boat on Tuesday.

"You know there are seven pirates who were arrested by the foreign forces after the attack, some of us are insisting to exchange the two with their friends while others just want to get ransom," Yare said.

The pirates had moved the couple, earlier held on a Singapore-flagged container ship off the coast, to a location near the pirate lair of Harardhere on the central coast of Somalia, he added.

"They were taken to a village outside Harardhere and they are fine so far," he said by telephone.

A local elder, Abdulahi Mohamed, also told AFP by phone that the couple was taken outside Harardhere, but he said he did not know their exact whereabouts.

The Chandlers were sailing across the Indian Ocean from the Seychelles to Tanzania when they were captured and their 38-foot (12-metre) yacht was later found empty by Britain’s Royal Navy.

They were initially held in a Singapore-flagged container ship which was seized by pirates earlier this month.

The couple have spoken to British broadcaster ITV News by telephone. An anxious-sounding Rachel Chandler said Friday that they were "safe" and "healthy" and that their kidnappers were "very hospitable people."

The BBC played a tape Friday of a man it identified as a spokesman for the pirates who said: "If they do not harm us, we will not harm them. We only need a little amount of seven million dollars."

Rob Macaire, the British High Commissioner in Kenya, told the BBC British officials were not in direct contact with the pirates holding the Chandlers, adding that their actions had "no justification."

"Our main concern is to make them understand that what they are doing is entirely unjustified and that the Chandlers should be released immediately and unconditionally on compassionate grounds," he said.

Paul Chandler’s brother-in-law Stephen Collett has said the couple are "not rich people" and that most of their money is tied up in their yacht.

Somali pirates, who have launched almost daily attacks near the Seychelles since monsoon winds dropped a month ago, currently hold a total of nine ships and around 200 people.

A Spanish tuna trawler, the Artza, was the latest target in a wave of raids but managed to escape, its captain Ion Fontela told Spanish radio station Cadena Ser.

Another Basque fishing boat, the Iria Flavia, was also able to skirt a pirate attack Friday, Spanish media reported.

The Spanish government on Friday gave private security firms protecting fishing vessels the authorisation to use large-calibre weapons to prevent pirate attacks.

A Spanish tuna trawler, the Alakrana, and its 36 crew members have been held by pirates since October 2.

The captors are demanding four million dollars ransom as well as the release of two suspected pirates being held in Spain.


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