Page last updated at 22:14 GMT, Friday, 30 October 2009

Ransom demanded for yacht couple

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

Somali pirates who have kidnapped a couple from Kent have issued a ransom demand of $7m (£4.3m) in a call to the BBC.

Paul and Rachel Chandler, aged 59 and 55, from Tunbridge Wells, 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.

The caller said: "If they do not harm us, we will not harm them."

He added: "We only need a little amount of $7m."

He said the couple had been captured by "our brothers who patrol the coast".

Explaining the decision to set the ransom at $7m, the caller said: "Nato operations had a lot of negative impact here.

"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 prisons of other [foreign] countries.

"So when you consider the damage and all the people affected we say the amount is not big."

The BBC's East Africa Correspondent Will Ross said the pirates had held talks for several hours in Harardhere on the Somali coast.

He said they were trying to agree how much money they wanted for the release of the pair.

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

He added that in previous cases pirates had begun negotiating with an extremely high figure, and then settled for far less.

Responding to the ransom demand, the couple's niece, Leah Mickleborough, said: "We had no idea what the figure would be. We have seen the report on the BBC and we will look into it."

The Foreign Office also said it was aware of the demand.

A spokesman said: "The government isn't going to make any substantive concessions to hostage-takers, and that includes the payment of ransom."

Earlier, Somali premier Omar Sharmarke said government officials were trying to explain to the pirates the couple could offer no commercial reward and they only had their boat, the Lynn Rival.

He said the government was doing what it could for the hostages.

In a phone call on Thursday, the couple said they were first moved from their yacht to a container ship, the Kota Wajar, which had also been seized by the pirates.

A man, who identified himself only by his first name, Abdinor, and who claimed to speak for the Somali kidnappers, said the pair spent Thursday night in the coastal town of Harardhere, which is a pirate stronghold.

It is thought the Chandlers were then moved to another ship anchored off the eastern coast of Somalia on Friday.

map shows somalia and seychelles with key locations

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