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31 Oct 2009 07:14
Somali pirates holding a British couple kidnapped from their yacht have demanded a ransom of $7-million to set them free, Britain’s Foreign Office said on Friday.
“We’re aware of it, we can confirm it,” a spokesperson said after the BBC played a tape of what it said was a spokesperson for the pirates outlining their ransom demands for Paul and Rachel Chandler.
The BBC tape featured a man’s voice saying: “If they do not harm us, we will not harm them. We only need a little amount of seven million dollars”.
The Chandlers, who are aged 59 and 55, were sailing off the Somali coast on their yacht the Lynn Rival when pirates boarded their boat and too them hostage last Friday.
They were sailing across the Indian Ocean from the Seychelles to Tanzania when they were taken and their 12m yacht was later found empty by Britain’s Royal Navy.
They were later held in a Singapore-flagged container ship which was seized by pirates earlier this month but are now thought to have been moved again.
The couple have spoken to British broadcaster ITV by telephone.
An anxious-sounding Rachel Chandler said on Friday that the couple were “safe” and “healthy” and that their kidnappers were “very hospitable people”.
The Foreign Office spokesperson could not say what Britain’s next steps would be as it tries to free the Chandlers, or whether a negotiator was in place.
British officials have held talks on the situation at the Cobra emergency briefing room which is used at times of emergency or disaster.
Paul Chandler’s brother-in-law Stephen Collett has previously insisted that the couple are “not rich people” and that most of their money is tied up in their yacht.
Stephen Collett was among relatives of the couple who met Somali Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke for talks in London on Wednesday.
The Somali premier has said: “I want to give my assurance to the family that my government will do everything it can, within its resources, to find this couple and return them safely.”
The apparent pirate spokesperson defended the size of the ransom demand in the call to the BBC, criticising the “negative” impact of Nato operations in the region.
“They have destroyed a lot of equipment belonging to the poor local fishermen. They arrest fishermen and destroy their equipment. In defiance to our local administrations, they illegally transfer the fishermen to their own prisons and to the prisons of other foreign countries,” he said.
“So when you consider the damage and all the people affected, we say the amount is not big”.
While most of the more than 100 ships hijacked in the region since the beginning of 2008 have been merchant or fishing vessels, pirates have also seized more vulnerable targets such as private yachts.
A hijacking earlier this year ended with French commandos shooting dead two pirates and a hostage in a bid to rescue him, his wife and young child.
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 crew. - AFP
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