October 31, 2009 / 9:44 AM / 10 years ago

Somali pirates move British couple ashore

* British couple now on land

* Pirates in dispute over Britons

By Abdi Guled and Abdi Sheikh

MOGADISHU, Oct 31 (Reuters) - Somali pirates said on Saturday that a captured British couple had been moved on shore from a container vessel and that there was a dispute between different groups over the two Britons.

Gunmen kidnapped Paul and Rachel Chandler, both in their 50s, last Friday soon after they left the Seychelles archipelago in the Indian Ocean and took them to the Somali coast.

One pirate told Reuters on Friday they had agreed on a $7 million ransom for the Britons, but others said it would only be decided once the couple were in a secure place on land.

The two Britons were moved from their yacht to a large container ship because the pirates feared foreign forces might try and rescue them. The gang that seized the Britons is finding a safe place on land to hold the two sailors.

"We were displeased by the men holding the British people. They were our friends. We helped them when a rescue operation was likely," pirate Hassan told Reuters.

"But they disrespected what we did for them. They took the pair yesterday to land and broke off relations," he said. "We are warning them it will lead to disaster for them. We will spare no efforts to foil them if they insist on separating from us."

Pirates have plagued busy shipping lanes off the coast of Somalia for several years. Foreign warships from 16 nations are patrolling the area to try and prevent hijacks, but the sea gangs are now hunting for ships far into the Indian Ocean.


A Foreign Office spokesman in London said the British government was aware of the reported ransom demand, but could not confirm its authenticity.

The pirate gangs — some made up of former fishermen angered by the presence of foreign fishing fleets in Somali waters — and their backers within Somalia and abroad have made tens of millions of dollars in ransoms.

Pirates in northern Somalia also said on Saturday they had seized a Yemeni fishing vessel after a gunbattle overnight that killed one of the hijackers and wounded another.

Ransom demands are usually high to start with, but tend to be whittled down during often protracted negotiations. Pirates initially demanded at least $15 million for a supertanker with $100 million of oil on board but accepted $3 million in the end.

In a tearful phone call to her brother Stephen Collett, Rachel Chandler said that they were coping with the pressure and their captors had given them food and water.

"Please don’t worry about us, we are managing," she said, according to a recording of the conversation shown on Britain’s ITV News. "Thank you for everything you are doing. We are safe." (Additional reporting by Abdiqani Hassan in Bossaso; Peter Griffiths in London; Writing by David Clarke)

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