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British hostage couple learn of father's death

Paul and Rachel Chandler — the British couple held hostage by Somali pirates for 388 days — have been given the news that Paul Chandler's father died while the pair was in captivity, the couple said Monday.

The Chandlers awoke Monday to their first full day of freedom since their October 2009 hijacking off the coast of East Africa. They asked in a statement that they be given space and privacy.

"We have just learned that Paul's father died in late July, and we obviously need to come to terms with that," the statement said. The couple said they would soon travel from Kenya, where they spent Sunday night, to the U.K.

The retired British couple were sailing the world on a 38-foot-yacht that represented most of their life savings when Somali pirates captured them last year near the island nation of Seychelles.

Pirates released the couple Sunday morning, ending one of the most dramatic and drawn-out hostage situations since pirate attacks spiked off East Africa.

The Chandlers met with the Somali prime minister in Mogadishu. A private jet then flew them to the military wing of Nairobi's main airport, where they were whisked away in a British Embassy vehicle.

British Prime Minister David Cameron told lawmakers that he spoke with Paul Chandler on Monday.

"It's hard to imagine what that family have been through and it's great that they are now safely in Kenya, soon to be flying home. I'm sure the whole House will want to wish them well," Cameron said in a statement to the House of Commons.

Somali pirates still hold close to 500 hostages and more than 20 vessels. The pirates typically only release hostages for multimillion-dollar ransoms. But unlike the companies who own large transport ships, the Chandlers are far from rich. Paul Chandler has been identified in the British media as a retired construction site manager, while Rachel has been described as an economist.

Pirates had initially sought a $7 million ransom. The Chandler family said in a statement Sunday that during protracted discussions with pirates that it was "a difficult task" to convey that Paul and Rachel were "two retired people on a sailing trip on a small private yacht and not part of a major commercial enterprise."

The family said it would not comment on questions about payment to the pirates, so as not to encourage the capture of other private individuals.

The EU's anti-piracy force, meanwhile, reported on Monday a new skirmish with pirates. The European Union Naval Force said one of its warships intercepted a whaler with four suspected pirates on board 200 nautical miles (230 statute miles) off the Somali coast on Saturday.

The whaler was initially spotted by an EU Naval Force reconnaissance aircraft and was suspected to be a support vessel for pirate activities. A suspected pirate skiff fled the scene. The four pirates aboard the whaler were returned to Somalia and their whaler destroyed. The EU force said there was insufficient evidence to prosecute the suspects.

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Associated Press writer David Stringer in London contributed to this report.