Page last updated at 16:16 GMT, Sunday, 31 January 2010

Kidnapped British yacht couple 'need urgent help'

Rachel Chandler and Mohamed Helmi Hangul
Mohamed Helmi Hangul told AFP Mrs Chandler was "very anxious"

A British couple kidnapped by Somali pirates three months ago have said they are in urgent need of help.

"We have not much time left and are being badly treated", Rachel Chandler told a journalist from the French news agency AFP who met them in captivity.

She and husband Paul, of Tunbridge Wells, Kent, were captured while sailing towards Tanzania on 23 October.

Mr Chandler, 60, said the couple could not meet the pirates' ransom demands and begged the UK government to help.

The pirates have threatened to kill the couple if their demands for $7m (£4.4m) are not met, but the Foreign Office has said it does not pay ransoms or give substantial concessions to pirates.

'Please help us'

The latest news of the couple came after a surgeon was allowed to briefly examine the pair on Thursday, accompanied by an AFP photographer.

During the examination, AFP reported, Mrs Chandler said: "Please help us, these people are not treating us well."

The surgeon, Mohamed Helmi Hangul, said she was in a poor state of mental and physical health.

I'm old, I'm 56 and my husband is 60 years old. We need to be together because we have not much time left
Rachel Chandler

"She is sick, she is very anxious, she suffers from insomnia," Mr Hangul told AFP.

"But I think she's mainly mentally unwell, it seems. She's very confused, she's always asking about her husband - 'Where's my husband, where's my husband?' - and she seems completely disorientated," he added.

The couple have been separated by their captors and are being held apart from each other in rugged areas between the coastal village of Elhur and the small town of Amara, further inland, AFP said.

"I'm old, I'm 56 and my husband is 60 years old. We need to be together because we have not much time left," she said.

Mr Chandler appeared in better health than his wife but was also under extreme stress, AFP said.

Mr Chandler said: "I just want to say please, to my government, get me and my wife out of here.

"We have no money and we can't pay a ransom. We just need the government to help, anyone who can help us out of here.

paul Chandler and Mohamed Helmi Hangul
I gave them some advice and told them: 'Your hostages can die, all you want is money so treat them well, let them re-unite'
Mohamed Helmi Hangul

"This is 98 days of solitary confinement, no exercise. I don't know what to do.

"Will somebody please help? The government or somebody else."

Mr Hangul said Mr Chandler "had a bad cough and seemed to have some fever".

The surgeon, who had initially travelled to his hometown of Hobyo in early January to start building a hospital there, told AFP it took him three weeks to get permission from the pirates to visit the couple.

Mr Hangul said he had not been allowed to take drugs with him but left a prescription with the captors.

"I gave them some advice and told them: 'Your hostages can die, all you want is money so treat them well, let them re-unite.'

"They said that they agreed but I cannot be sure what they've done."

In a statement, the Foreign Office said: "We are monitoring the situation very carefully and are doing everything we can to help secure a release.

"We remain in regular contact with the family and are providing support. We call for the safe and swift release of Paul and Rachel."

'Business, not ideology'

The BBC's East Africa correspondent, Peter Greste, said the pirates were "unlikely to back down without trying to extract some kind of cash from the family".

However our correspondent added: "One thing that has to be said is that in all of our experience with these types of situations, the kidnappers have not harmed their captives - this is about business, not ideology."

Mr and Mrs Chandler spoke to the doctor in the presence of the AFP photographer, the first journalist to see the hostages since their kidnapping.

The couple had been travelling to Tanzania from the Seychelles when they were captured.

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Yachting World Petition for Chandler release - 36 mins ago
Devon Herald Express 'Help us' plea from Somali hostage couple - 1 hr ago
The Independent Gaunt and anguished but ransom for pirates' captives is ruled out - 8 hrs ago
Heart Radio Birmingham and West Midlands Couple Held By Pirates 'Briefly Reunited' - 8 hrs ago
Ripon Today Government's refusal to negotiate ransom under fire - 12 hrs ago

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