Pirates capture British couple

MOGADISHU, Somalia — Paul and Rachel Chandler, a retired British couple who sailed to exotic locales aboard their 38-foot yacht, said in one of their last cheery messages they would likely be "out of touch for some time."

After disappearing for a week, a somber Paul Chandler is back in contact, saying by telephone Thursday that he and his wife are being held captive by gun-toting pirates who stripped their vessel of everything of value.

Despite the presence of warships and aircraft from more than a half-dozen nations, the pirates prowl the Indian Ocean off Somalia seemingly at will, pouncing on pleasure craft, fishing vessels and huge cargo ships.

With the recent end of monsoon season in East Africa, there has been a rash of attacks as pirates return to the open seas. More than 190 crew members from eight ships are being held. The latest seizure on Thursday was of a Thai fishing vessel carrying 21 Russians, two Filipinos and two Ghanaians, the Seychelles coast guard said.

Paul Chandler told Britain's ITV News in a phone call that he and his wife were being held aboard a container ship anchored a mile from the Somali coast. They apparently had been briefly taken ashore.

A fisherman told the Associated Press he saw two boats carrying eight pirates and a white couple come ashore in the village of Ceel Huur, just north of Haradhere, a notorious pirate stronghold. Dahir Dabadhahan said six luxury vehicles carrying about 30 other pirates cleared bystanders from their path.

"The pirates fired into the air, waving us to move away," he said.

At a European Union summit in Brussels, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown appealed for the couple's release. Foreign Secretary David Miliband pledged that Britain would use "all the mechanisms at our disposal" to secure their safe return.

Chandler told ITV the pirates crept aboard his yacht at night while he was asleep.

"They kept asking for money and took everything of value on the boat," Chandler, 59, said in the interview before the phone connection was abruptly broken.

The British navy found the yacht — empty — in international waters earlier Thursday. Warships had been searching for the Lynn Rival since it sent out a distress signal Oct. 23.

Chandler later told the BBC in a telephone interview that he is being treated well by his captors.

"We are well, and being looked after OK," Chandler said. "Food is OK."

He did not appear to be able to speak freely.

A pirate spokesman who identified himself as Abdinor said the bandits will negotiate a ransom for the couple. The British government does not make or facilitate "substantive concessions" to hijackers, including ransom payments, the British Foreign Office said.