Gaunt and anguished – but ransom for pirates' captives is ruled out

Government refuses to make concessions to secure release of British couple
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Indy Politics

No ransom will be paid to the kidnappers of a British couple captured by pirates while sailing their yacht in the Indian Ocean despite mounting pressure to meet their demands, the Government said last night.

Concern over the physical and mental welfare of Paul and Rachel Chandler grew sharply after they were shown gaunt and anguished in a video released over the weekend. The retired couple from Tunbridge Wells in Kent have been held apart in Somalia since they were seized more than three months ago.

But despite evidence of their deteriorating condition, the Government again insisted that making concessions would only encourage kidnappers to target more Westerners in the region.

The Foreign Office position, which was given backing by Downing Street yesterday, was criticised by the head of an agency specialising in maritime security who warned the kidnappers may be running out of patience and urged diplomats to act.

Nick Davis, chairman of the not-for-profit Merchant Maritime Warfare Centre, said he started negotiating for the Chandlers' release in November. He claimed the £100,000 deal was scuppered when the Foreign Office did not return his calls.

"The door is open for them to be released. Somebody needs to pick up the gauntlet and run with it. We are the people who know what needs to be done, we can do it, we just need to be allowed to do it," he said.

Mr Davis said he believed the latest communication showed the kidnappers were keen to do a deal. "[The pirates] don't want Paul and Rachel any more. It's costing them a lot of money to keep them alive, which is why they are releasing these videos. I have a suspicion they will soon lose patience. The Government needs to understand that this could turn against them," he said.

The Foreign Office denied it had blocked any moves by Mr Davis. A spokesman said that while there was no law against third parties paying ransoms official advice was not to do so. Nor would the Government make "substantive concessions", he said.

The Foreign Secretary David Miliband outlined to MPs what was being done to help the Britons. "I think that all members will have felt heart-wrenched by the video that was released yesterday... the political and diplomatic effort continues in close liaison with the family.

"I think everybody's hearts go out to the Chandlers and we will continue to make every effort to help resolve this very distressing case," he said.

A Downing Street spokesman said: "The Prime Minister's view is that hostage-taking is never justified and we would like to repeat the Government's call that Paul and Rachel Chandler should be released immediately and unconditionally."

The couple were captured while sailing from the Seychelles to Zanzibar aboard their yacht, Lynn Rival, on 23 October and taken to a hideout on land. The retired quantity surveyor and his wife have begged the British Government to come to their aid. A medic who visited them last week said Mr Chandler was in better condition than his wife who was suffering from anxiety and insomnia. She was struggling to cope with solitary confinement, he said.

In the video Mrs Chandler begged for help. "I need to be with Paul. We have always been together and we look after one another. I am 56 years old and my husband is 60 years old – we are not young people. These people are treating us so cruelly," she said.