Yacht couple's family issue plea to pirates

Relatives of a British couple thought to have been captured by Somali pirates today pleaded with the captors to end the family's "bad dream".

Retired quantity surveyor Paul Chandler, 59, and his wife, economist Rachel Chandler, 55, disappeared after sailing from the Seychelles towards Tanzania.

European naval forces were today monitoring a yacht seen towing a skiff - a small boat used by pirates - near to the Somali port of Haradheere but were unable to confirm if it was the Chandlers'.

A news agency was contacted yesterday by a man claiming to be a pirate who warned ransom demands would follow after saying the couple were "in our hands".

Mr Chandler's sister Jill Marshment, 69, of Bredon, near Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, today told any potential captors that they had "got the wrong people".

"If I was to give a message to the pirates, I'd say you've got the wrong people," she said.

"They are not a wealthy couple. They just wanted to take early retirement, to take a boat and to see more of the world."

"They are resilient people. They won't be weeping. Instead, they'll be thinking: 'What are we going to do? What are we going to say?'.

"They are quite used to their own company and do crosswords and Sudoku."

She said the couple had taken early retirement a few years ago and had spent several six-month spells at sea, before returning home for brief visits.

Their latest adventure had begun about two years ago.

"It's a bad dream," she said. "I'm afraid it still is a bad dream. I am shocked, yes. They are responsible people and I wouldn't have thought they would have set out with the knowledge that they (pirates) were in the area. But unfortunately I've found out they are, or were, in the area.

"They are very experienced sailors. They've been sailing all their lives. We all are. The whole family is. They've been married over 25 years and have always been sailing, and always on that boat."

Mrs Chandler's brother Stephen Collett, of Ixworth, Suffolk, said the family were keeping their "fingers crossed" but were not "over-worried".

"We're just keeping our fingers crossed," he said. "It may still be that they're sailing across the Indian Ocean. We're not grossly over-worried at the moment."

The last message on the Chandlers' extensive travel blog was posted on Friday morning and read: "Please ring Sarah."

It is thought the message was to Mrs Chandler's sister, who lives in the London area.

On their blog, the couple wrote last Wednesday that they were planning to leave the Seychelles and sail their yacht - the Lynn Rival - more than 500 miles to Tanzania.

They warned they "may be out of touch for some time" as they would not have satellite phone coverage.

Commander John Harbour, spokesman for the European Naval Force Somalia (EU NAVFOR), said the yacht seen yesterday was being monitored.

"We still have the yacht in sight but still can't confirm that it is the Lynn Rival," he said.

Britain's Maritime and Coastguard Agency said an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon from the yacht was activated at 11pm on Friday.