Kidnapped couple freed as pirates get ransom
BRITISH yachting couple Paul and Rachel Chandler had their first taste of freedom in more than a year yesterday as they were finally released by Somali pirates and flown to safety in neighbouring Kenya.
One of the most drawn-out and tense hostage dramas thrown up by the surge in piracy off the Horn of Africa was ended by a significant ransom paid to the gang holding the retired couple.
There was no immediate confirmation as to who had paid for the couple's release but the British government insisted its policy of not entering such negotiations remained unchanged.
After a day that began with them being handed over to Somali local government officials and ended at the British high commission in Nairobi, the Chandlers were relieved but exhausted.
"We are fine, rather skinny and bony, but we are fine," Paul Chandler said last night. "We were told on Friday in a way which gave us some confidence. But we've been told we are going to be released almost every 10 days," he added.
Earlier in the day at a brief news conference that saw the Somali prime minister welcome their release, Ms Chandler had said: "We are happy to be alive and desperate to see our family."
She made a point of praising "decent, everyday" Somalis, whom she contrasted with the "criminals" who had been holding her and her husband.
The protracted negotiations over the Chandlers' release had seemed to reach a low point earlier this year, when relatives made a ransom payment reported to have been worth around €410,000, but failed to secure their release.
A deal on the second payment, thought to have been of a similar sum, was reached at the beginning of last week after months of discussions complicated by mutual suspicion.
British officials said the couple had been examined by doctors at the high commission and were set to be reunited with their family.
Footage of the captives' last moments in Somalia showed the 61-year-old Paul and his 56-year-old wife gaunt but smiling and thanking people at the airport. Mr Chandler was pictured waving goodbye to his Somali hosts and taking pictures as he boarded the flight to Nairobi.
While the Kent couple are expected to return to the UK today or tomorrow, at least 560 people are still being held hostage by gangs in Somalia. In the past three years, hundreds of vessels have been seized off the coast of the war-torn country and thousands of people taken hostage in a piracy crisis that has grown into a lucrative industry.
News of the couple's release was confirmed early yesterday morning by Somali officials in the town of Adado, close to the border with Ethiopia. (© Independent News Services)