MOGADISHU, (Reuters) – Somali pirates said on Saturday that a British couple captured in the Indian Ocean more than a week ago had been moved deeper into central Somalia after a row between rival pirate gangs.
Gunmen seized Paul and Rachel Chandler, both in their 50s, last Friday soon after they left the Seychelles archipelago aboard their 38-foot yacht 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 men have taken the two British people towards central Somali towns,” a pirate called Hassan told Reuters by phone from the port of Haradheere. “We heard that two of the men took the British pair after some arguments among themselves.”
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.
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.
“We understand that the two British people were driven to Bahda town which is about 60 km away from here,” resident Farhan Bashir told Reuters by phone from Adado, in central Somalia.
A Foreign Office spokesman in London said the British government was aware of the reported ransom demand, but could not confirm its authenticity.
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.
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.
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.”