A British couple kidnapped off their private yacht by Somali pirates more than a year ago were set free on Sunday, ending one of the most drawn-out and dramatic hostage situations since the rash of piracy began off East Africa.
Paul and Rachel Chandler looked relaxed and smiled through a small ceremony held in the Somali town of Adado after their morning release. Rachel Chandler told The Associated Press by phone- “We are happy to be alive.”
Pirates boarded the Chandlers' 38-foot yacht during the night of October 23, 2009, while sailing from the island nation of Seychelles. The couple, married for almost three decades, took early retirement about four years ago and were spending six-month spells at sea.
Despite an international flotilla of warships and aircraft, pirates continue to prowl the Indian Ocean off Somalia seemingly at will, pouncing on pleasure craft, fishing vessels and huge cargo ships.
Efforts to free the couple by the Somali diaspora, the weak Mogadishu-based government and Britain had failed until now. The couple flew from Adado to Mogadishu, and after a short stop their plane continued on to Kenya’s capital.
“We are feeling happy but you know we will not be free until we arrive in Nairobi,” Mr. Chandler told AP.
In Mogadishu, Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed met the couple and said the government was pleased they had been freed. He said the government had “exerted every humanly possible effort to bring you back to your loved ones.”
Earlier in Adado, the couple attended a ceremony attended by several dozen people.
Abdi Mohamed Elmi, a Somali doctor who has regularly attended to the couple and was involved in efforts to free them, said the Chandlers will now need more specialised attention.
“They need counseling and rest to recover from the situation they have been living in for the last 13 months,” Mr. Elmi said. “But now they seem OK and were happy this morning. They had showers, changed clothes and had breakfast with us smiling.”
Despite the Chandlers’ release, Somali pirates still hold close to 500 hostages and more than 20 vessels. The pirates typically only release hostages for multimillion dollar ransoms.
Conflicting reports from Somali officials about the Chandlers’ release said either a $300,000 ransom for “expenses” was paid or that a $1 million ransom that was contributed to by the Somali diaspora was paid.