Somali pirates say they have British couple hostage

Somali pirates say they will soon issue a ransom to Rachel and Paul Chandler's family. Pirates have upped their attacks significantly this year, but the international response is also becoming increasingly robust.

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Somali pirates kidnapped a British couple who were sailing through the east African Seychelles islands, the latest incident in a week that saw three ships seized off Africa's eastern coast.

The pirates say they will soon issue a ransom demand to the couple's family.

But the family has said that the couple, Rachel and Paul Chandler, were traveling on a "shoestring" budget and cannot afford a hefty ransom payment.

This latest incident helped to underscore that, while hijackings off the Somali coast have become more frequent, so too has the international response become more robust: Naval ships of several countries are speeding to the area where the couple was kidnapped, backed by unmanned drones, while British special forces have been put on standby for a possible rescue mission.

The Chandlers, said to be avid and experienced seafarers, have been sailing around the world for three years. They were on their way to Tanzania last week. But their trip came to an abrupt end Wednesday, when they entered the troubled waters surrounding the Seychelles, known to be frequented by Somali pirates.

The couple has not been heard from since. But the emergency beacon on their yacht, the Lynn Rival, activated near Victoria, the capital of the Seychelles, and the couple seems to have tried to contact their families in London via the Internet, according to the Telegraph.

A Somali man, claiming to be a pirate leader, told news organizations that he and several others had kidnapped the Chandlers and were holding them hostage. The claim could not be verified, but a ship that fit the description of the Chandlers' was seen off the coast of Somalia, heading to a port said to be controlled by militants and pirates. The yacht was being pulled by two skiffs, a method often used by Somali pirates, according to the European Union's Naval Force Somalia, the Independent reports.

With an ultimatum likely to be issued, the British government could face the grim prospect of a hostage rescue. British special forces are being put on standby for such an attempt, according to the Independent, which adds:

Hostage rescues have had highly mixed results in Somalia. Last April, French troops raided a private yacht hijacked in the area, and although they were able to free four captives, one captive died the operation.

This week's response showcases a new weapon in the antipiracy arsenal: unmanned American Reaper drones. The drones, which are capable of deploying missiles, went into action this week, reports the Associated Press.

The use of drones underscores a sharp uptick in piracy: "While the bandits targeted 35 vessels in 2007 and 111 in 2008, they have launched some 178 attacks so far in 2009, according to International Maritime Bureau figures," the AP adds.

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