Couple tell of lucky escape from pirates

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The Independent Online

A second British couple targeted by Somali pirates today spoke of their lucky escape.

Tony and Audrey Walter, of Hayling Island, Hampshire, described how a French warship came to their rescue as they were sailing off the east African coast in February this year.

Mr Walter, a retired lecturer, explained that they had been nearby when a merchant vessel, MV Saldanha, was captured by pirates.

He then realised that his yacht would be the next target and issued a mayday alert which was picked up by the French navy.

The 65-year-old said that he saw two boats with about 10 people on board brandishing AK47 automatic rifles come within a few hundred yards of their yacht before the French warship arrived and scared them away.

He told the Portsmouth News: "They were following us, about two miles behind.

"We put the radio on low power so the pirates couldn't hear us and sent out an all-emergency call on the radio to say that the pirates were after us.

"There were two boats, about 200 metres away, and we could see about nine or 10 pirates with their AK47s.

"It was such a relief to see the smoke from the warship which meant it wasn't too far away and we got the message saying, 'We will be there in 15 minutes'."

Mrs Walter, a 55-year-old caterer, said that the predicament of Paul and Rachel Chandler, who have been kidnapped by Somali pirates, made her realise how serious their situation had been.

She said: "It could so easily have been us. Not everyone who sails has lots of money to pay a big ransom. I hope and pray that the couple are okay."