Reports: Boat Found, but British Yachting Couple Paul and Rachel Chandle Held by Somali Pirates

(Family photo)
Paul and Rachel Chandler

MOGADISHU, Somalia (CBS/AP) Navy sailors searching for a British couple whose yacht has likely been hijacked by Somali pirates, have located the boat in the waters off East Africa, Sky News reports.

Paul and Rachel Chandler were heading from Seychelles to Tanzania in their yacht, the Lynn Rival, when a distress signal was sent early Friday, according to the U.K. Maritime and Coast Guard Agency.

Up until now, searches by coast guards based in the Seychelles have failed to spot the boat.

Aircraft from Seychelles and the European Union searched for the couple over the weekend. EU and U.S. naval forces are assisting in the effort, a statement from Seychelles said.

A photo released by the U.S. Navy Sunday, Nov. 4, 2007, shows two Tanzanian-flagged fishing trawlers Mavuno I and Mavuno II as they rendezvous with a U.S. Navy ship.

A resident of Somalia's coastal Haradhere town, a hotspot for pirate activity, said he had spoken to a member of the pirate gang that claimed to have captured the boat.

Abdi Nor Osman said that eight pirates were aboard the yacht, which was towing two skiffs. The yacht was expected in Haradhere, in central Somalia, on Tuesday, he said. Osman said he was a member of the pirate gang, a claim supported by local residents.

Leah Mickleborough, the niece of Paul and Rachel Chandler, told BBC radio that the both are very experienced sailors who would never deliberately put themselves in danger.

"When you hear of things like this you possibly expect the worst might have happened but you always hope that it hasn't," she said. "You never believe it's going to be one of those things that happens to your family."

Pirates have preyed on yachts before. In April, the French captain of the Tanit was killed during a rescue operation by French commandos. He had been held for six days along with his wife, child and two other adults. Pirates also seized the French luxury yacht Le Ponant in 2008, and the Indian Ocean Explorer and Serenity yachts earlier this year.

Joel Morgan, the minister responsible for anti-piracy operations in the Seychelles, said the island nation had sent an aircraft to find the yacht and tried to raise the couple on both radio and satellite phones.

Lt. Cmdr Daniel Auwermann at the European Union's base in London said that EU forces had combined forces with other warships in the region to search for the missing couple. He could not confirm the ship had been taken by pirates, he said.

Somali pirates have increased attacks in recent weeks, following a several-months long monsoon season that had made waters too rough for the pirates.

The pirates are currently holding seven ships with around 150 crew members.