Page last updated at 18:17 GMT, Friday, 30 October 2009

Couple's ransom demand 'expected'

The couple's yacht, the Lynn Rival
The couple's empty yacht was found during counter-piracy operations

A ransom demand for a British couple being held by Somali pirates is to be made later, the BBC has learnt.

Paul and Rachel Chandler, aged 59 and 55, from Tunbridge Wells in Kent, were taken hostage by gunmen in the Indian Ocean in the early hours of 23 October.

They had been travelling to Tanzania from the Seychelles and their yacht was later found in international waters.

Somali premier Omar Sharmarke said the government had been trying to contact the pirates through local elders.

'Resolved peacefully'

He added: "We are trying to explain that this couple can offer no commercial reward and that their boat is all they have.

"We are asking them to make a gesture of goodwill and to release Paul and Rachel Chandler.

"I must reiterate that we are doing what we can for all the hostages and all the hostage situations must be resolved peacefully.

"The pirates do not have any history of harming their hostages and we are determined that this, at least, will not change."

BBC East Africa correspondent Will Ross said the pirates had been holding discussions.

He reported that one of the men holding the couple said the demand would possibly be issued later on Friday.

The UK government's emergency committee Cobra has met in the Cabinet Office to discuss the latest developments in the kidnapping.

Treatment 'OK'

The BBC's security correspondent Frank Gardner has been told by Whitehall officials that the government has appointed a hostage negotiator who is on standby to deal with the case.

Armed Somali pirates boarded the couple's yacht, the Lynn Rival, in the Indian Ocean while they slept.

Mr Chandler, speaking by phone to the BBC's Somali Service on Thursday, said he and his wife were well and being treated OK.

Rachel and Paul Chandler
The couple were travelling from the Seychelles to Tanzania

The pirates forced the pair to sail towards Somalia after their boat was captured.

Searches for the Chandlers began on 23 October after they sent a distress signal.

Mr Chandler has said the couple were being held on a Singapore-registered container ship called the Kota Wajah which was seized by the pirates earlier this month.

Local fishermen then reported seeing the couple being taken to the village of Ceel Huur, near the pirate stronghold of Harardhere.

A spokesman for the pirates, who identified himself only as Abdinor, told the Press Association the couple would be moved from land back to a ship anchored off the eastern coast of Somalia.

The pirates believed it would be safer for the couple to be kept on a ship with other hostages, he said.

Commander John Harbour, spokesman for the European Naval Force Somalia (EU NAVFOR), said the pirates usually secure the vessel they have captured then contact the ship's owner to start negotiations.

He said the pirates often take trade ships but have recently seized a couple of yachts, taking the crews prisoner.

"They know lives are worth a lot of money," he added.

He warned that negotiations can take months.

map shows somalia and seychelles with key locations

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