A British man held hostage by Somali pirates has said his captors have threatened to kill him or his wife “within four or five days” if they do not receive a ransom.

Paul and Rachel Chandler disappeared while sailing from the Seychelles to Tanzania on October 23 near waters teeming with Somali pirates, who regularly seize ships for ransom.

Their yacht, the Lynn Rival, was later found abandoned, and Somali pirates confirmed they were holding the couple hostage.

Speaking in a telephone interview with British TV channel ITN broadcast Thursday, Paul Chandler, 59, said he has been separated from his wife Rachel, 55, and that he believed time was running short.

“I’m afraid that they will just kill us and abandon us in the desert here,” he said.

There were rumours of a deal that would have freed the couple for as little as $100,000 at the tail end of 2009, but the British government allegedly blocked the move.

A spokeswoman for the Foreign Office told DPA on Friday that their policy was to not “make or facilitate concessions to hostage-takers”.

The British government is, however, monitoring the situation and doing everything it can to secure the Chandlers’ release, the spokeswoman added.

Pirates often say they will execute hostages in what is generally an empty threat. They rarely harm captives and fatalities usually occur during the initial pirate attempt to board the ship or rescue attempts by foreign naval forces.

Piracy is rife off the Horn of Africa nation, which has not had a functioning central government since 1991.

Young men take to the seas in search of multimillion-dollar ransoms despite the presence of over a dozen international warships, which were dispatched to the Gulf of Aden in 2008 to combat a rise in piracy.

The pirates have expanded their operations further out into the Indian Ocean to avoid the patrols and the International Maritime Bureau said last week that Somalis were largely responsible for a global increase in pirate attacks in 2009.

There were 406 attacks in 2009, compared to 293 the previous year, and over half of them were off the coast of Somalia, the IMB said.

Somali pirates were believed to have scooped their biggest payday so far on Monday, when a Greek supertanker carrying millions of barrels of crude oil from Saudi Arabia to the United States was released.

The ransom airdropped onto the ship was believed to be between 5.5 and 7 million dollars.

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