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Somali pirates say holding British couple
Tue Oct 27, 2009 11:44am EDT
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By Abdi Guled
MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Somali pirates said Tuesday 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.
"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.
The Seychelles coastguard said it dispatched aircraft to search for the yacht after receiving a distress signal Friday and now foreign naval ships and planes fighting piracy in the Indian Ocean 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. "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, on October 22 and were believed to he sailing toward the east African coast.
Maritime security groups warned in May of a surge in the number of pirate "mother ships" operating in the Seychelles archipelago's expansive territorial waters.
The U.S. military said in August it would be deploying unmanned reconnaissance aircraft above the Seychelles to bolster anti-piracy efforts.
"We are currently in touch with the family in the UK and the Seychelles coastguard who continues to monitor the situation and has conducted a search of the area," Matthew Forbes, British High Commissioner to the Seychelles, told Reuters.
GUNMEN PLAGUE SHIPPING LANES
Pirates have plagued busy shipping lanes off the coast of Somalia for several years. Foreign navies have warships in the area to try and prevent hijacks, but the sea gangs have started to hunt for ships far into the Indian Ocean.
The pirates typically use "mother ships" to sail hundreds of miles to sea and then launch attacks in small skiffs, armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
The gangs -- some made up of former Somali fisherman angered by the presence of foreign fishing vessels in their waters -- have made tens of millions of dollars in ransoms.
"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.
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. Continued...
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