Somali pirates threaten to kill British hostages in days

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Location of the Gulf of Aden.

A middle-aged British couple who have been held hostage by Somali pirates for more than three months said on Friday, in a telephone interview with ITN, that their captors have threatened to kill one or both of them if a government ransom is not received "within four or five days."

Paul and Rachel Chandler disappeared on October 23, 2009, while in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia while en route from the Seychelles to Tanzania. Their 38-foot yacht, the Lynn Rival, was later found abandoned. Days later, pirates confirmed they were in fact holding the couple hostage within Somalia's borders.

A spokeswoman for the British Foreign Office told media in a statement on Friday that the government's policy was to not "make or facilitate concessions to hostage-takers." She added, the Office is, however, still closely "monitoring the situation" and "doing everything it can" to secure the couple's safe release.

The Chandlers' captors have demanded a ransom payment of US$7 million (£4.3 million), but the British government has refused to pay it, in line with their policy.

On Friday, the pirates granted the Chandlers separate telephone interviews with UK-based media outlet ITN. According to the interviews, the couple pleaded for help and alleged that they have been "physically attacked," separated and "treated as a captive animal" in solitary confinement at the hands of their captors.

Rachel Chandler told ITN that "dying would actually be an easy way out" and how she wanted to see her husband "at least once before we die."

The validity of these threats are not known. According to The Hindu, pirates often make empty threats of execution, but rarely harm the captives.

Piracy is especially rife in the waters near Somalia, a nation, due to an ongoing civil war, that has not had a functioning government in place since 1991. Islamic extremist groups, such as al-Shabaab, as well as various warlords and pirate gangs control most of the nation. The only exception is the besieged capital of Mogadishu, which is protected primarily by UN peace-keepers and other foreign troops.

According to the International Maritime Bureau, there were 406 reported pirate attacks worldwide in 2009, compared to approximately 290 the year before. During both years, more than 50% of these incidents occurred off the coast of the Horn of Africa.