Yacht couple savour freedom and prepare to return home

15th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

As British couple Paul and Rachel Chandler prepared to return home following 13 months held captive by Somali pirates the story behind the ransom paid to secure their release emerged Monday.

Having spent their first night of freedom at the residence of the British High Commissioner in Nairobi, they promised to return to Britain "very soon".

But as they adjusted to their new-found liberty, it was revealed that Paul Chandler had been informed following his release that his father had died in July.

Rachel Chandler said the couple had found the moment when their captors insisted they be separated and held in different locations was the most difficult time of their ordeal.

"They decided to separate us and we were really distraught and we were very frightened at that point," she told BBC TV.

"We refused to be separated and were beaten as a result and that was very traumatic."

She said the couple's health was "OK" -- both appeared thin and pale but otherwise healthy after being held in rural locations in Somalia.

The Chandlers were seized by pirates on their yacht in October last year as they sailed from the Seychelles for Tanzania.

A deal was struck with the pirates and, according to Somali elders and sources close to the tortuous negotiations, a total ransom of at least 750,000 dollars (550,000 euros) was paid for their release.

Reports in Britain said that an initial payment of about 450,000 dollars was made to the pirates in June, but they made fresh demands and an additional sum in excess of 200,000 dollars was paid later.

Some of the additional money was raised by the Somali community in Britain, reportedly after a Somali TV station raised the funds.

Paul Chandler said the couple only found out following their release that the Somali diaspora had helped to secure their freedom.

"We found out today -- it's been confirmed -- that Somalis all over the world have been helping us as well as other people.

"Particularly we'd like to thank the Somali government at this point, the... Somali government has been very active in bringing things to fruition today," he said, speaking on Sunday.

The Chandlers' plight generated considerable interest in Britain and became one of the most high-profile hostage cases in Somalia's recent, troubled history but the British government has a strict policy of not paying any ransoms.

However, Britain made a payment of 5.8 million pounds to the Somali government in March for what was described as aid and "assistance".

A Somali official told Britain's Channel 4 News that this money was always intended to be used to help free the Chandlers.

David Miliband, the foreign minister at the time of the payment, and Douglas Alexander, who was International Development Secretary at the time, have both denied the claim.

It was also reported that a former London minicab driver masterminded the Chandlers' release.

Dahir Abdullahi Kadiye, 56, who divides his time between Somalia and east London and describes himself as a "businessman", is said to have acted as a mediator and maintained contact with the pirates.

When the couple were freed, he said he was "excited" and added: "This will make my sons very happy."

© 2010 AFP

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