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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Hostage pair prepare for UK return

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Paul and Rachel Chandler wave to well-wishers outside the British High Commission residence in Nairobi, Kenya (AP)

A British couple held captive by Somali pirates have woken up to their first day of freedom in more than a year, as family and friends continue to celebrate their release.

Gaunt but relieved, Paul and Rachel Chandler’s 388-day ordeal came to an end on Sunday when they were finally whisked to safety.

Speaking before their long-awaited return home to Britain, Mr Chandler, 60, smiled as he said: “We’re fine. We are rather skinny and bony, but we’re fine,” while his wife, 56, simply said: “Happy to be alive.”

The pair, from Tunbridge Wells in Kent, revealed they were beaten by their captors after they refused to be separated. They were seen waving and holding hands as they finally left Somalia for Kenya on Sunday evening, where they were taken to the British High Commission to prepare for a flight back to the UK.

The couple were handed over to local officials in the Somali town of Adado after a ransom of up to 1 million US dollars (£620,000) was reportedly paid to their kidnappers. They were then flown to the capital Mogadishu and on to Nairobi, Kenya.

Their freedom was welcomed by Prime Minister David Cameron as “tremendous news”, while family members in the UK said the pair were “in good spirits although very tired and exhausted”.

But questions remain over how their release was secured. Reports suggest the ransom money came from a mixture of private investors and the Somali government.

In a statement, the Chandler family said that in discussions with the pirates, “it has been a difficult task… to get across the message that these were two retired people on a sailing trip on a small private yacht and not part of a major commercial enterprise involving tens of millions of pounds of assets”. But they refused to comment on how the couple’s freedom was secured, saying only that common sense had “finally prevailed”.

Former hostage Terry Waite, held captive in Lebanon for nearly five years before being released in 1991, advised the Chandlers to “take time out and take time to tell their story to a trained listener, who will be available – and then you have a chance to manage it, rather than being managed by it”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There will be various things to come to terms with – the loss of their boat and also this very thorny question of payment of ransom. Will they feel obliged to somehow give the money back to those who have paid for their release?”

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