MOGADISHU ) - Somali pirates holding two Britons captive aboard a yacht off the coast of the Horn of Africa nation warned Britain not to try to rescue the couple.

The pirates seized the vessel on Friday morning hundreds of miles out to sea near the Seychelles archipelago. They have taken it to the Somali coast with a view to demanding a ransom for their captives.

If warships surround us, we shall point our guns at the British tourists. They are old and we will take care of them -- that is if we are not attacked, said a pirate called Hassan in the coastal town of Haradheere.

Paul and Rachel Chandler, both in their 50s, left the Seychelles aboard their 38-foot yacht, Lynn Rival, on October 22 and were believed to be sailing toward the east African coast.

Seychelles coastguard planes searched for the yacht after receiving a distress signal on Friday and said naval forces from the NATO alliance, European Union and United States had joined the mission.

Andrew Mwangura of the Kenya-based East Africa Seafarers' Assistance Program said the yacht had been seen some 30 miles south of the coastal town of Hobyo on Tuesday evening.

Elders in Hobyo want the couple released without conditions, but since the boat has not yet arrived we are waiting to see if the pirates will go by their wishes, or make ransom demands, Mwangura told Reuters.

It was still not clear where the vessel would end up mooring. Hassan said it might sail to Haradheere, a pirate haven where the gunmen who seized the yacht were operating from.


Pirates have plagued busy shipping lanes off the coast of Somalia for several years. Foreign warships from 16 nations are in the area to try and prevent hijacks, but the sea gangs now hunt for ships far into the Indian Ocean.

The gangs -- some made up of former Somali fisherman angered by the presence of foreign fishing vessels in their waters -- and their backers within Somalia and abroad have made tens of millions of dollars in ransoms.

While hundreds of sailors have been held captive by Somali pirates over the past few years, most have been released unharmed once a ransom has been paid.

The few attempts to rescue sailors seized by pirates off the coast of Somalia have met with mixed success.

In April, U.S. special forces shot dead three Somali pirates on a lifeboat and freed American cargo ship captain Richard Phillips, ending a five-day standoff.

But when French forces, who have taken a robust stance against pirates in the Indian Ocean, stormed a yacht in the same month, one of the five hostages was killed. Two other French rescue attempts have been successful.

Somali Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke discussed the hijacking with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband during a visit to London.

We are trying to dispatch some of our people to seek where these people are, he said in an interview with Sky News. I want to assure the family that we will do our best to see a peaceful end to this saga.

(Additional reporting by Mohamed Ahmed and Abdi Sheikh in Mogadishu, Wangui Kanina in Nairobi and Adrian Croft in London; Writing by David Clarke; Editing by Angus MacSwan)