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14-11-2010, 08:42 AM
British couple released by Somali pirates

By Ibrahim Mohamed and Sahra Abdi MOGADISHU/NAIROBI | Sun Nov 14, 2010 3:59am EST

MOGADISHU/NAIROBI (Reuters) - Somali pirates released British couple Paul and Rachel Chandler on Sunday after holding them hostage for more than a year. Somali pirates kidnapped the retired couple on October 23 last year after hijacking their 38-foot yacht Lynn Rival in the Indian Ocean off Seychelles.

"I'm fine, thank you, enjoying being free, but we are still in Somalia. We are with the good guys now. We will be making our way to Nairobi later in the day today," Rachel Chandler told Reuters by telephone. Mohamed Aden Tiicey, a senior official in the town of Adado, told Reuters the Chandlers were handed over early on Sunday after the payment of a ransom.

"The Chandlers are with me now. They are free and safe," he said. Abdi Mohamed Elmi, a Somali doctor who has been involved in efforts to free the Chandlers, told Reuters the couple would leave Adado by aircraft. A plane left Kenya's capital Nairobi on Sunday morning to collect them. "We succeeded in getting the British couple released. We did our best to achieve this good news," he said.

BIG RANSOMS

Somali pirates typically hijack merchant vessels, take the ships to coastal towns they control and hold them until a ransom is paid. With ransoms usually in the millions of dollars, the lucrative trade has continued despite foreign naval patrols.

According to the International Maritime Board, ship hijackings hit a five-year high in the first nine months of 2010 with Somali pirates accounting for 35 of the 39 ships seized. According to Ecoterra, a rights group that monitors shipping in the Indian Ocean, more than 500 crew members and nearly 30 ships were still being held by Somali pirates as of November 10. While the pirates usually focus on larger ships, a few yachts have also been seized.

Pirates kidnapped three South African yachtsmen about two weeks ago. One escaped when the yacht ran aground in southern Somalia and he was rescued by the European Union's anti-piracy task force. The other two are being held captive onshore. A French hostage was killed and four others freed in April 2009 when French forces attacked a yacht that had been hijacked by Somali pirates.

(Additional reporting by Mohamed Ahmed, Abdi Guled and Abdi Sheikh in Mogadishu; Sahra Abdi and George Obulutsa in Nairobi; Editing by David Clarke)