Somali pirates free British couple

Paul and Rachel Chandler fly to Kenya after huge ransom is reportedly paid to end their year-long ordeal.

According to a Somali physician who looked after the British couple, they are unharmed and generally healthy

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 looked frail and exhausted as they were flown out of Somalia on Sunday. 

“I’m fine, thank you, enjoying being free, but we are still in Somalia. We are with the good guys now,” Rachel Chandler told the Reuters news agency.

The couple, who arrived in Nairobi, Kenya, later on Sunday, 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,” 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. Several 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.

‘Treated like animals’

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

“We’re delighted that the Chandlers are heading home. The Somali government has paid no ransom to the pirates … we have been working on gaining their freedom for some time.

Abdulkareem Jama, Somali president’s chief of staff.

“We have been treated like caged animals,” Rachel Chandler said 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 privy to the secret negotiations that led to the Chandlers’ release have told Al Jazeera that about $300,000 was paid to their captors on Saturday.

Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Adow, reporting from Nairobi, said that a first instalment of money was paid many months ago.

“Negotiations then collapsed because the pirates were asking up to $7m before they released the Chandlers,” he said.

“What we are hearing about the $300,000 paid to the pirates yesterday evening is that it was contributed by wellwishers, including the Somali community in London.”

In total, the pirates are believed to have received between $800,000 and $1m since the Chandlers were taken. Much of the earlier payment is reported to have been contributed by the family of the Chandlers and through a website requesting donations.

Abdulkareem Jama, the Somali president’s chief of staff and senior adviser, told Al Jazeera that the Somali government did not pay the ransom for the British couple.

“We’re delighted that the Chandlers are heading home,” said Jama. “The Somali government has paid no ransom to the pirates … we have been working on gaining their freedom for some time.”

The British government has a longstanding policy of refusing to pay ransoms to kidnappers.

Costly captives

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,” Ali Omar Ahmed, a maritime security consultant, said.

Sources tell Al Jazeera that $300,000 was paid on Saturday to secure the Chandler’s release

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

Before they fell prey to Somali pirates, the Chandlers were 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,” Paul Chandler said 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 crew members 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 was wrenching.

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

Hangul, who visited 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 conclusion, the local community was also relieved.

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

Tiiceey, who 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 still 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 the UK, where the government has prepared a national homecoming event for them.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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