A British couple who disappeared while sailing off East Africa were likely kidnapped by pirates and are being held at an ocean stronghold, authorities said Tuesday.
Shortly after the couple went missing, a pirate named Hassan claimed responsibility for the hijacking, according to a report by Reuters.
"We've captured them as they were touring the Indian Ocean," Hassan told Reuters.
Since the search for the retired couple began, European naval forces said they thought they'd spotted the Paul and Rachel Chandler's yacht, the Lynn Rival, but it was not alone.
"It was the first sighting of a yacht in that area since we started looking for a yacht," Cmdr. John Harbour of the European Union Naval Force said. "It's towing a skiff, which is a pirate skiff clearly."
On the couple's travel blog, the Chandlers wrote about the "Somali pirate problem" that had postponed their sail to Tanzania. Last Friday a distress signal was sent to the blog, reading "Please ring Sarah," thought to be a cry for help to Rachel Chandler's sister.
The Chandler's trip had taken them through the Red Sea, along the coast of India and into the island nation of Seychelles of East Africa. The couple was heading to Tanzania on a route through waters notorious for pirate activity.
It was a danger the Chandlers believed they were prepared for, Paul's sister, Jill Marshment, said.
"They're not stupid people," Marshment said. "They do know the dangers, and that is why they spent about seven months in the Seychelles sailing around the islands before possibly they felt 'It's safe for us to go over to Africa.'"
An official for the Seychelles coast guard, which has also launched a search for the couple, said there is a "high probability" pirates took over the sailboat.
"We are monitoring the situation, and at the present moment there is no confirmation that the Lynn Rival has been taken by pirates, even if the probability of hijacking is high. We are pursuing all efforts with other international partners to establish the facts," Lt. Col. Michael Rosette of the Seychelles coast guard told The Associated Press Tuesday.
A man claiming to be part of the pirate gang, Abdi Nor Osman, told the AP the sailboat had been captured by several pirates and was towing two pirate skiffs.