Kidnapped Chandlers released by Somali pirates

First images from Skynews of the freed Chandlers
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Somali pirates have released British cruising sailors Paul and Rachel Chandler today (Sunday) after holding them hostage for more than a year.

Somali pirates kidnapped the retired couple on Oct. 23 last year - 388 days ago - after hijacking their 38-foot yacht Lynn Rival in the Indian Ocean off Seychelles. They had left the Seychelles and were bound for Kenya when they were taken off their yacht in full view of a British warship, which decided not to interfere as they could have injured the hostages. (A French cruising sailor was killed and four others freed in April 2009 when French forces attacked a yacht that had been hijacked by Somali pirates.) The yacht, which was left drifting, was then returned to Britain where it has been kept for their return.

'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 Nairobi later in the day today,' Rachel Chandler told Reuters by telephone.

The couple has arrived at the heavily-guarded compound of the mayor of Adado, a central Somali town near the Ethiopian border.

Mayor of Adado Mohamed Aden confirmed that the Chandlers are in good spirits, saying: 'They are very happy and very, very excited to be alive and have their freedom back.'

Lynn Rival back in Britain
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However he said they had endured 'horrific treatment', something which Mrs Channdler reportedly confirmed when asked on her arrival at the compound. Mr Aden also spoke of the help provided by the local community, who he said had helped raise money to secure the couple's release.

Mohamed Aden Tiicey, a senior official in the town of Adado, told Reuters the Chandlers were handed over early today after the payment of a ransom. 'The Chandlers are with me now. They are free and safe,' he said. Abdi Mohamed Elmi, a Somali doctor who has been involved in efforts to free the Chandlers, told Reuters the couple would leave Adado by aircraft. A plane left Kenya's capital Nairobi on Sunday morning to collect them.

'We succeeded in getting the British couple released. We did our best to achieve this good news,' he said. They have both now had medical checks and are said to be in 'relatively good health' although they still appear thin.

Early reports are that a ransom of up to US$1million was paid to the pirates to secure the release, and that the ransom was raised by private individuals.

Before they fell prey into the hands of Somali pirates, the Chandlers were a normal couple living their retirement dreams. Paul is a 60-year-old retired civil engineer, and Rachel is a 57-year-old economist. They sold their house in the UK, and bought the yacht to travel around the world.

'We were an ordinary couple,' said Paul in the interview with ITN.

But their ordeal makes them an extraordinary duo: they have survived the longest captivity under Somali pirates (who are holding more than 400 crewmembers for ransom).

While they were not physically tortured (except once when they refused to be split), the Chandlers said the amount of emotional torture subjected to them is wrenching.

'They kept us in solitary confinement for long periods of times,' said Paul, who said he has never been separated from his wife for more than few days. The couple have been married for 30 days, and since they do not have children, they said their bond is exceptionally strong.

Another doctor, Dr Hangul, who visited with the couple a few times, said he was impressed by their resilience. The captors tried to break the Chandlers' spirit, he said, 'but their strength and character is truly humbling'.

The Chandlers' family told reporters: 'We are delighted,' but have not yet released a formal statement.

Meanwhile, the Chandlers are expected to be reunited with family and friends in Britain, where the government has prepared a national homecoming event for them.

This release takes the number of cruising sailors held as hostages by Somali pirates from four back to two. Pirates kidnapped three South African yachtsmen aboard their yacht Coizil about two weeks ago. The skipper, Peter Eldridge, escaped by jumping overboard when the yacht ran aground in southern Somalia and he was rescued by the European Union's anti-piracy task force. The other two, Bruno Pelizzari and his partner Deborah Calitz, are being held captive. onshore.

According to Ecoterra, a non-government organisation that monitors shipping in the Indian Ocean, more than 500 crew members and nearly 30 ships were still being held by Somali pirates as of Nov. 10.