Search for UK couple missing in Somali pirate area

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MOGADISHU, Somalia — A British couple who set sail in a yacht from the island nation of Seychelles have likely been hijacked by Somali pirates in the waters off East Africa, a Seychelles coast guard official said Tuesday.

Paul and Rachel Chandler were heading from Seychelles to Tanzania in their yacht, the Lynn Rival, when a distress signal was sent early Friday, according to the U.K. Maritime and Coast Guard Agency.

They have not been heard from since, and searches by coast guards based in the Seychelles have failed to spot the boat.

"We are monitoring the situation and at the present moment there is no confirmation that the Lynn Rival has been taken by pirates, even if the probability of hijacking is high. We are pursuing all efforts with other international partners establish to the facts," said Lt. Col. Michael Rosette of the Seychelles coast guard.

Aircraft from Seychelles and the European Union searched for the couple over the weekend. EU and U.S. naval forces are assisting in the effort, a statement from Seychelles said.

A resident of Somalia's coastal Haradhere town, a hotspot for pirate activity, said he had spoken to a member of the pirate gang that claimed to have captured the boat.

Abdi Nor Osman said that eight pirates were aboard the yacht, which was towing two skiffs. The yacht was expected in Haradhere, in central Somalia, on Tuesday, he said. Osman said he was a member of the pirate gang, a claim supported by local residents.

Leah Mickleborough, the niece of Paul and Rachel Chandler, told BBC radio that the couple are very experienced sailors who would never deliberately put themselves in danger.

"When you hear of things like this you possibly expect the worst might have happened but you always hope that it hasn't," she said. "You never believe it's going to be one of those things that happens to your family."

Pirates have preyed on yachts before. In April, the French captain of the Tanit was killed during a rescue operation by French commandos. He had been held for six days along with his wife, child and two other adults. Pirates also seized the French luxury yacht Le Ponant in 2008, and the Indian Ocean Explorer and Serenity yachts earlier this year.

Joel Morgan, the minister responsible for anti-piracy operations in the Seychelles, said the island nation had sent an aircraft to find the yacht and tried to raise the couple on both radio and satellite phones.
Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. continues here

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