The crew of a Royal Navy vessel watched as a British couple was abducted by Somali pirates, unable to rescue them without endangering their lives, the British military said Friday.
As armed pirates boarded Paul and Rachel Chandler's yacht on Oct. 23, the Royal Fleet Auxiliary replenishment tanker Wave Knight was within view, carrying light arms and a crew of 75 merchant seamen and 25 navy sailors in the Indian Ocean, the Ministry of Defense said.
But the crew could not intervene without putting the Chandlers at further risk, and could only watch as the pirates forced the couple off their yacht, the Lynn Rival, and onto an open skiff.
The ministry refused to give further information, saying it could not comment on operational details. It said in a statement that the Wave Knight "did very well under the circumstances."
Authorities believe the Chandlers, who are in their 50s, are now being held on land in Somalia. Pirates have demanded $7 million for their release _ ransom the British government says it will not pay.
The Chandlers have been sailing around the world since retiring several years ago.
The waters off Somalia are teeming with pirates who have hijacked dozens of ships for multimillion-dollar ransoms in the past two years.
The Wave Knight is part of an international anti-piracy mission off Somalia's 1,900-mile-long (3,100-kilometer) coast. U.S., NATO and European Union ships patrol the pirate-infested area and escort aid shipments and merchant marines vessels through the Gulf of Aden.
France said Friday that its navy had seized three boats off Somalia's coast and detained 12 suspected pirates while seizing an arsenal including assault rifles and rocket launchers.
The operation Thursday by the Floreal surveillance boat was part of the EU anti-piracy mission in the region, the Defense Ministry said in a statement.
Alerted by a Luxembourg maritime surveillance plane on Wednesday, the Floreal was given orders to pursue the suspicious boats. It intercepted the pirate ship and two skiffs about 750 miles (1,207 kilometers) east of Hobyo, Somalia, the statement said.