Somali pirates free British couple

Paul and Rachel Chandler released by their Somali captors after more than a year for a reported $300,000 ransom.

The Chandlers’ ordeal began on October 23 last year as their luxury yacht sailed from Seychelles to Tanzania [AP]

Somali pirates have released a British couple they held captive for more than a year, after a significant amount of ransom money was paid.

Paul and Rachel Chandler, who looked frail and exhausted as they were flown out of Somalia, are unharmed and generally healthy, according to a Somali physician who looked after them occasionally.

“Aside from the deep emotional and psychological abuse they endured over the past 13 months, they are doing relatively well,” Dr Mohamed Elmi Hangul said.

The Chandlers’ ordeal began on October 23 last year as their luxury yacht sailed from Seychelles to Tanzania. In an effort to steer clear of the pirate-infested waters near Somalia, the couple travelled hundreds of miles southward.

But they were not too distant for the increasingly bold pirates. Armed men stormed their yacht and took it over at gunpoint. Few days later, they were transferred to a mother ship near the pirate base of Haradheere in central Somalia, while a British military ship looked on – helplessly.

Secret ransom

From there, the Chandlers were taken deep inland, where they have been continuously moved around in wind-swept bushes. The captors kept them separately for the most part, but permitted them to make phone calls a few times.

“We have been treated like caged animals,” said Rachel in a rare interview broadcast on Britain’s ITN channel. Conducted in May, the interview was seen as the pirates’ confirmation that the Chandlers are alive.

Sources tell Al Jazeera that $300,000 was paid for the Chandler’s release [AP

Sources privy to the secret negotiations that led to the Chandlers’ release have told Al Jazeera that $300,000 was paid to their captors – an amount far less than the millions of dollars the pirates initially demanded.

But the details of just who paid the ransom are sketchy. The British government has a long standing policy to not pay ransom to kidnappers.

Sources close to the case told Al Jazeera that the a money came from private donors and the Somali government, which has been involved in the negotiations to release them, and which is desperate for any positive news as it is rattled by daily fighting against al-Qaeda-linked groups.

Regardless of the source of the money, analysts believe that the captors lowered their ransom demand as the Chandlers became a security and financial liability.

“On the one hand, you had Al-Shabab fighters closing in on the captors, and on the other hand, the cost of securing and feeding the Chandlers was mounting,” said Ali Omar Ahmed, a maritime security consultant.

“The combination was forcing the captors to get rid of their victims at any cost.”

‘Ordinary couple’

Before they fell prey into the hands of Somali pirates, the Chandlers have been an ordinary couple living their retirement dreams. Paul is a 60-year-old retired civil engineer, and Rachel is a 57-year-old economist. They sold their house in the UK, and bought the yacht to travel around the world.

“We were an ordinary couple,” said Paul in the interview with ITN.

But their ordeal makes them an extraordinary duo: they have survived the longest captivity under Somali pirates (who are holding more than 400 crewmembers for ransom).

While they were not physically tortured (except once when they refused to be split), the Chandlers said the amount of emotional torture subjected to them is wrenching.

“They kept us in solitary confinement for long periods of times,” said Paul, who said he has never been separated from his wife for more than few days. The couple have been married for 30 days, and since they do not have children, they said their bond is exceptionally strong.

Dr Hangul, who visited with the couple a few times, said he was impressed by their resilience. The captors tried to break the Chandlers’ spirit, he said, “but their strength and character is truly humbling”.

‘A huge relief’

With the Chandlers’ saga coming to a happy end, the local community feels equally relieved.

Mohamed Aden Tiiceey, the governor of the Himan and Heeb administration (the jurisdiction under which the Chandlers were held), said their release “is a huge relief for them, their families and for us”.

Tiiceey, who has played a crucial role in facilitating their release, said his administration “spared no effort to secure their release”.

While the Chandlers’ saga has a good ending, there are hundreds of foreigners held captive by Somali pirates. Security analysts point out that the ransom paid to free the Chandlers will likely embolden the pirates to target Western individuals as they are perceived more lucrative.

A recent UN report said despite increased global effort to combat piracy off the coast of Somalia, pirates have “outpaced” the crackdown.

Meanwhile, the Chandlers are expected to be reunited with family and friends in Britain, where the government has prepared a national homecoming event for them.

Source : Al Jazeera

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