Let us negotiate British hostages' release urges anti-piracy maritime group

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The Independent Online

An anti-piracy maritime group today insisted it should be allowed to negotiate a payment for the release of two British hostages before their captors lose patience.

Paul and Rachel Chandler, from Tunbridge Wells, Kent, were captured while sailing from the Seychelles towards Tanzania more than three months ago.

A new video released by the pirates shows the couple making a desperate appeal for the Government to intervene in their plight.

The Foreign Office has reiterated its stance that it will not pay a ransom for the couple.

But chairman of the Merchant Maritime Warfare Centre, Nick Davis, an experienced pirate negotiator, said he could not understand why he was not being allowed to secure their release.

He said: "People are forgetting the key issue. Paul and Rachel have not got a clue what's going on. They are sat there in a hell hole wondering why people aren't helping them.

"The door is open for them to be released. Somebody needs to pick up the gauntlet and run with it.

"For the amounts involved I don't think it's worth trying to bring anyone to justice. We just need to get Paul and Rachel home.

"We are the people who know what needs to be done, we can do it, we just need to be allowed to do it."

Mr Davis said he could not do anything without the "green light" from the Foreign Office and the family.

He said the pirates would need to feel they were talking to somebody with the authorisation and means to secure the release.

He said he helped bring an initial £100,000 deal to start talks in November last year but the Foreign Office failed to return his calls and he could not push forward with the deal.

And he said the price was likely to have risen but it would still be a "pretty small sum in the scheme of things".

He said pirates were unlikely to harm the couple and added: "They 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 pirates could ditch the couple and leave them somewhere, perhaps at the mercy of an insurgent group.

Mr Miliband said the Foreign Office was working "very closely" with the Chandler family.

He told Sky News: "Obviously there's a very high level of concern. Anyone watching the video will have seen why that is the case.

"We're using all of the networks that we do have in that part of the world, political and diplomatic, and we've been very clear with the Chandlers here about how we're doing that.

"Obviously none of us are going to be satisfied until the Chandlers are safely home and that's why we're working very hard on this case."

But Mr Davis questioned the ability to negotiate with anyone but the pirates themselves and said: "What are the other options? I hear no other options being talked about."

The latest video was recorded on Thursday and smuggled out of Somalia before being given to Sky News.

Mr Chandler, who was being held in a separate location from his wife, said: "I just want to say please to my government get me and my wife out of here.

"We are innocent, we have done no wrong.

"We have no money and we can't pay a ransom.

"We just need the government to help, anyone who can help get us out of here.

"We're kept day after day - this is 98 days today of solitary confinement, no exercise.

"I don't know what to do.

"Will somebody please help? The government or somebody else."

Mrs Chandler said: "It's because I am not with my husband that I am feeling so lonely and desperate and finding it difficult to sleep.

"I need to be with Paul. We are husband and wife. 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."

The couple were captured aboard their yacht Lynn Rival on October 23.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We are monitoring the situation very closely and are doing everything we can to help secure a release.

"We remain in regular contact with the family and are providing support.

"We call for the safe and swift release of Paul and Rachel."