Missing couple’s yacht found abandoned in Indian Ocean

<div data-recalc-dims=Paul and Rachel Chandler are said to be very experienced sailors who were aware of the risks posed by pirates.

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The British Royal Navy has found the yacht belonging to a British couple missing in the Indian Ocean since last week, but the yacht was empty, the British Ministry of Defence said Thursday.

International military forces have been treating the case as a “potential hijacking,” Lt. Ian Jones of Britain’s Royal Navy told CNN Tuesday. “We have no confirmation that anything has been pirated,” he added. There are many possibilities, he said, adding he was aware of the reports of piracy but that hijacking was “far from certain.” Britain’s Foreign Office issued a statement this week saying it is “extremely concerned for their safety,” while pointing out it had not confirmed reports they were taken captive. Pirates have been very active off the east coast of Africa in the past several years, operating out of lawless Somalia. Read more about the rise in pirate attacks in 2009 Two vessels were attacked the day after the Chandlers set sail. One of them — a cargo ship — was successfully boarded and seized off the Seychelles, while the other fought off its attackers near the Kenyan coast. Thursday, pirates attacked and boarded a Thai-flagged fishing vessel about 200 miles north of the Seychelles, according to the European Union Naval Force. EU NAVFOR aircraft spotted the pirates onboard and said the vessel now appears to be heading toward the Somali coast. The Thai vessel is the eighth ship held by criminals at the Somali coastline, EU NAVFOR said. Attacks in the region have significantly increased this year, according to the International Maritime Bureau, which monitors shipping crimes. But successful attacks have gone down as a result of a strong presence of international monitors. The first nine months of this year has seen more pirate attacks than all of last year, the bureau reported October 21. From January 1 until September 30, pirates worldwide mounted 306 attacks, compared with 293 in all of 2008, it said. More than half of this year’s attacks were carried out by suspected Somali pirates off the east coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden, a major shipping route between Yemen and Somalia. Out of those attacks, Somali pirates successfully hijacked 32 vessels and took 533 hostages. Eight people were wounded, four were killed and one is missing, the bureau said.