Rachel and Paul Chandler speak to the BBC’s Andrew Harding in Nairobi
A retired British couple who spent almost 400 days held hostage in Somalia have spoken of their “traumatic” time. Paul and Rachel Chandler, kidnapped off their yacht near the Seychelles in October 2009, said they had been beaten when they refused to be separated. “We were really distraught, we were very frightened at that point,” Mrs Chandler, 56, of Tunbridge Wells, Kent, said after arriving safely in Kenya. They said they had only the vaguest idea of how the rescue had come about.
Mr Chandler, 60, said they had been driven across Somalia, then were left locked in a car to sleep overnight. “Just after dawn, about 7 o’clock, we were asked to leave and join our rescuer. It was hard to have any feelings really, almost disbelief, it was too good to be true,” he said, having travelled from Adado, then to Mogadishu, and finally flying to Kenya.
Details of their onward journey back to the UK have not been released yet. They were held in harsh conditions, with intense heat, in rural Somalia for 13 months. Mr Chandler said they were well, albeit “rather skinny and bony”. Medical check-ups were available in Nairobi for them.
The long-term effects of their ordeal are unknown, with their family back in the UK asking “that everyone gives them the opportunity to adjust and return to their families and friends in the days to come”. Both husband and wife – who are experienced sailors – said the worst time had been leaving their yacht, in which they had been sailing from the Seychelles towards Tanzania as part of a longer voyage.
“The worst time was when we had to abandon our home and boat… in the ocean,” Mr Chandler said. Mrs Chandler agreed, saying: “Abandoning [our yacht] Lynn Rival when we were taken on board the container ship and brought eventually on shore was the worst time.
“Another time that was very traumatic was when they decided to separate us. We were really distraught, we were very frightened at that point. We refused to be separated and we were beaten as a result. That was very traumatic.” Mrs Chandler said they had been told on Friday of their imminent freedom but remained doubtful it would happen.
She said it was the gang leader who told them the news, but “he was always telling us lies, from time to time, that we would be released. But we were hopeful as for the last few months we had heard so little”. Mr Chandler said they could not comment on any details about how the rescue was negotiated as they had only the “vaguest idea” of what had happened, having had “no communication since the middle of June with the outside world”.
Details were not released by the Chandler family in the UK, who issued a statement saying: “The family believes it would be irresponsible to discuss any aspect of the release process as this could encourage others to capture private individuals and demand large ransom payments, something that we are sure none of us wants.” Earlier this year their captors threatened to kill the couple if their demands for $7m (£4.4m) were not met.
A payment of about $430,000 (£267,000) was made to the pirates in June, but did not result in the release of the Chandlers. Media speculation was thought to have influenced the pirates, and so the family opted for a super-injunction banning media coverage of the kidnap.
BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner said the ransom paid for their eventual release had been “the best part of $1 million”. Our correspondent said it was thought unlikely any of those responsible would be brought to justice in Somalia, a country without an effective government since 1991.
The British government welcomed the news of the Chandlers’ release, with Prime Minister David Cameron “unreservedly” condemning the captors. “Kidnapping is never justified,” he said.
Foreign Secretary William Hague reiterated the long-standing British policy of not paying ransoms. “I think it is right that successive British governments have said we don’t make concessions to hostage-takers. But it is also right to do everything else we have done in this case and that the previous government did. “We have used our contacts in the region to try to gain information and to influence the hostage-takers. But no British government is going to start paying ransoms for hostages.” – BBC