Somali pirates release British couple held for more than a year

Paul and Rachel Chandler were kidnapped as they slept on their yacht 800 miles off the East African coast more than a year ago. Their 388-day ordeal makes the British couple the longest-held former captives of Somali pirates.

By , Correspondent

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    British sailors Paul and Rachel Chandler seen at Mogadishu airport, Somalia Sunday. The British couple were released from captivity by Somali pirates after more than a year in captivity.
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Somali pirates on Sunday released the British couple Paul and Rachel Chandler, who had been kidnapped more than a year ago as they slept on their yacht 800 miles off the East African coast.

Their 388-day ordeal makes the retirees the longest-held former captives of Somali pirates. And amid questions over why the couple was released now – including how much may have been paid as a ransom, and by whom – the Chandlers are just happy to be freed and homeward bound.

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"I'm fine, thank you, enjoying being free, but we are still in Somalia. We are with the good guys now. We will be making our way to [neighboring Kenya's capital, Nairobi] later in the day today," Mrs. Chandler said in a telephone call with Reuters.

The path back home

They were initially taken to Adado, a Somali town near the Ethiopian border, where elders who helped arrange their release said they were attended to medically and kept in a well-guarded compound.

From there, they were taken to the infamous, war-ravaged capital, Mogadishu, where they met with Somalia's newlyappointed prime minister, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, before boarding a plane to Nairobi, reports Agence-France Presse.

After greeting the Chandlers, Mr. Mohamed said that the fragile Western-backed government "exerted every humanly possible effort" to free them.

'Caged like animals'

The couple suffered through ill health since being captured, Mrs. Chandler lost a tooth from being hit with a rifle butt, and they reported being ”caged like animals,” the Daily Telegraph reports.

The pirates originally asked for 4 million British pounds ransom (about $6.5 million), though, as the Daily Telegraph notes, the family repeatedly said that they were not rich and could not afford that.

Pirates, Inc.: Inside the booming Somali business

But Al Jazeera reports that sources privy to the secret negotiations for their release said that about $300,000 was paid on Saturday, bringing the estimated total paid over time to between an $800,000 and $1 million.

"Negotiations then collapsed because the pirates were asking up to $7 million before they released the Chandlers," said Al Jazeera correspondent Mohammed Adow in Nairobi. "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."

AFP reports that, based on discussions with "Somali elders and sources close to the tortuous negotiations that led to [the Chandlers'] release," the ransom payment totaled at least $750,000.

The British government, for its part, has a policy to not pay ransom.

"The government will not make substantive concessions for hostage takers, including the payments of ransom," the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office has said in a statement, according to CNN.

Aside from the fresh ransom payment, there may have been other factors that contributed to the Chandlers being released now.

Al Jazeera reports that the pirates likely wanted to get the captives off of their hands after the long and costly ordeal. "On the one hand, you had [Al Qaeda-linked] Al Shabab fighters closing in on the captors, and on the other hand, the cost of securing and feeding the Chandlers was mounting," Maritime Security Consultant Ali Omar Ahmed told Al Jazeera.

The news agency adds that the payment of ransom could embolden pirates to target more Western individuals, in addition to the more than 400 maritime crew members they are already holding.

Pirates, Inc.: Inside the booming Somali business

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