Kidnapped Britons say Somali pirates may kill them

AP News
Posted: Nov 20, 2009 3:34 PM

A British couple being held hostage by Somali pirates said in an interview broadcast Friday that they fear they will be killed or handed to a terrorist group if a ransom is not paid soon.

Paul and Rachel Chandler were kidnapped by pirates on Oct. 22, who seized their 38-foot yacht _ the Lynn Rival.

In an interview with Britain's Channel 4 news program, the Chandlers are seen surrounded by armed men, some of whom have their guns pointed directly at the retired couple.

"I have no doubt that they will not hesitate to kill us in a week or so from now," Paul Chandler, 59, said in the interview, filmed by a Channel 4 crew on Wednesday.

Britain's ITN _ which produces Channel 4 News _ said the Chandlers and their relatives had agreed that the footage, the first of the couple since their capture, could be aired.

Pirates have demanded $7 million to release the Chandlers, but Britain's government insists it won't pay ransoms to kidnappers.

"We are under threat and we are told that we will not be fed and given water, so we are very concerned about the future," Rachel Chandler, 55, said in the video.

"Our captors are very impatient now that nobody has been in touch to enter into negotiations. So we ask the government, and the people of Britain and our family, to do whatever they can to enter into negotiations with these people to buy back our lives," she said.

She said that the couple had been told by their captors that a terrorist cell is searching for them.

"We are also feeling very much under threat now that these people themselves won't hesitate to take our lives," she said.

An Islamic militia commander and a local elder in the central Somali village of Bahdo told the Associated Press previously that rival pirates and militia groups had fought for control of the British couple.

Britain's Foreign Office said Friday in a statement that it was aware of the video, and said the footage would likely "be distressing for the family."

But the ministry said government policy on ransom payments was clear.

"We do not make substantive concessions to hostage takers, including the payment of ransoms. These are innocent tourists, we seek the immediate release of Paul and Rachel," the Foreign Office said.

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The Chandlers, married for 28 years, took early retirement about three years ago, sailing across the world. In an entry on a Web site in June they wrote that they were headed for Tanzania, after initially delaying a voyage there "because of the Somali pirate problem."

In the video footage, Paul Chandler insisted the couple were in reasonable health and unharmed.

"Mentally we are under great stress and threatened," he said. "Our kidnappers are losing patience. They are concerned that their has been no response at all to their demands for money."

The hostage, who had previously been permitted to conduct a telephone interview with a Britain's ITV News, urged the government to intervene before "we just sleepwalk to a tragic ending."

Yemen's coast guard said Friday that Somali pirates had hijacked a Panamanian cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden, between the Arabian peninsula and the Horn of Africa. A coast guard official said the Red Sea Spirit was carrying an unknown number of crew when it was hijacked Friday morning, 36 nautical miles from the Yemeni port of Balhaf.