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Freed British hostages tell of ‘traumatic’ pirate kidnap

Released British hostages Rachel and Paul Chandler with newly-appointed Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (centre) in Mogadishu. Photo: Mustafa Abdi/AFP

Released British hostages Rachel and Paul Chandler with newly-appointed Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (centre) in Mogadishu. Photo: Mustafa Abdi/AFP

Freed hostages Paul and Rachel Chandler yesterday described their “traumatic” kidnap ordeal at the hands of Somali pirates as the government denied aid money was used to secure their release.

The Chandlers, freed on Sunday following more than a year in captivity, revealed they were beaten by their captors after refusing to be separated.

The retired couple from Tunbridge Wells, Kent, are poised to return to the UK after a ransom was reportedly paid to secure their release. Reports suggested the money came from a mixture of private investors and the Somali government. The government moved to quash reports that part of the release money had come out of British aid paid to the African country’s government.

A spokeswoman for the Department for International Development (DfID) said: “No part of the UK aid budget has been used to help secure the Chandlers’ release, nor to benefit pirates.

“The British government does not pay ransoms to hostage takers.”

In 2009/10 DfID gave more than £30 million to Somalia which was used for humanitarian relief, education and health programmes.

The Chandler family released a statement acknowledging the “inevitable questions” that would arise following the release.

News of the couple’s freedom following the 388-day ordeal prompted joyous scenes. Prime Minister David Cameron, who spoke to Mr Chandler yesterday, declared their release “tremendous news”.

The couple were snatched during a round-the-world sailing trip, when their 38-foot yacht, the Lynn Rival, was stormed by armed men. The length of their incarceration meant Mr Chandler was unaware his father had died in July until being told on his release.

The 60-year-old said: “We’re fine. We are rather skinny and bony but we’re fine.” The couple were seen waving and holding hands as they finally left Somalia for Kenya, where they were taken to the British High Commission to prepare for a flight back to the UK.

“We were told on Friday (of our release) and in a way which gave us some confidence to believe it,” Mr Chandler told the BBC.

“We’d been told we were going to be released in 10 days almost every 10 days for nine months.”

He added: “It was hard to have any feelings really – almost disbelief. It was too good to be true.”

The couple were handed over to local officials in the Somali town of Adado. They were then flown to the capital Mogadishu and on to Nairobi, Kenya.

The Chandlers yesterday revealed details of their ordeal. Mr Chandler said: “The worst time was when we had to abandon our home and boat... in the ocean.”

His wife, 56, added: “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.”

The Mayor of Adado, Mohamed Aden, suggested the couple had been on the verge of release in June after a ransom payment of “somewhere like” $450,000 (around €331,000) had been paid but he said the pirates held out for more.

He told Sky News that a final payment of “somewhere like” $350,000 (around €257,500) had been made which finally secured their release, down on an initial demand of $500,000 or $600,000.

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