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Update on British Couple Kidnapped by Somali Pirates

By Sue Richards last modified Nov 02, 2009 05:27 PM

Published: 2009-11-02 17:27:11
Topics: Piracy Reports 2009

As reported by Ecoterra International, 1 November 2009

The Somali pirates who are demanding $7 million USD in ransom for British sailing couple Paul and Rachel Chandler, said Saturday (31 October) that boats from other countries are plundering Somalia's fish-rich waters while navies shoot and arrest innocent fishermen.

Somali Prime Minister Omar Sharmarke said in London that his government was attempting to make contact with the captors, to explain to them that the couple did not have that amount of money.

Ahmed Gadaf, who described himself as a spokesman for the coastal defenders, said Western fishing vessels "harass" local fishermen and destroy their nets - and the demand should be seen as compensation. Another spokesman for the pirates said the group holding the sailing couple are "voluntary guards" trying to protect the country's natural resources from Western forces.

Gadaf says the British couple, Paul and Rachel Chandler, are safe and will not be harmed. He, however, warned military powers in the area of the Somali coast and in the Indian Ocean not to attack or try to rescue the couple. Paul Chandler had confirmed in a phone interview that the two hostages were treated correctly.

The British government reiterated daily its refusal to ransom the pair. The British High Commissioner to Kenya, Rob Macaire, has insisted that the government will not pay a ransom to the Somali pirates holding a couple from Kent. Mr Macaire told the BBC: "Our main concern is to make them understand that what they are doing is entirely unjustified and that they should release the Chandlers immediately and unconditionally."

Meanwhile it has transpired from the group, which took the Chandlers further inland on the Somali coast, that the negotiation is also open to have the British couple released against the 7 Somalis, which were captured by the German navy operating under EU NAVFOR recently. Abdi Yare, a spokesman for the hostage-takers, said also yesterday that the pirates had moved the couple. “They were taken to a village and they are fine so far,” he said.

Local observers believe that reports leaked by a man, who identified himself as Ilka Gudud (red teeth) to the New York Times correspondent and claimed that the Chandlers had been taken to a small town called Buxdo, are false, but that they are held in a location under the control of the sub-clan of the hostage takers.

The seven arrestees and now potential exchange subjects were rounded up in a joint operation by the European Union Naval Force Somalia after they tried to seize a French fishing vessel 350 nautical miles east of Mogadishu last Tuesday. Cmdr John Harbour of the EU naval force, said there was no precedent for captured pirates being swapped for hostages, but such a deal could not be ruled out.

The Foreign Office declined to discuss its plans, but repeated the fact that it would never make “substantive concessions to hostage-takers”. Regional analysts believe that such an exchange deal plus some little money would be a feasible option, but fear that the window for this opportunity and to get the couple quickly free is closing rather fast. The hostage takers have told the BBC they will accept 110,000 euros ($163,000). Experiences from other sea-jacking cases show clearly that if such first possibilities are not responded to, the cases will drag on for months only to end with higher ransoms paid and hostages severely traumatized.

A weeping Rachel Chandler told her brother Stephen Collett over the phone from their hideout: "Please don't worry about us, we're managing. I'm bearing up. Thank you for everything you're doing."

Efforts to secure the unharmed and immediate release of the hostages through the mediation of local elders also have continued.

See previous noonsite reports about Paul and Rachel Chandler here