Taken at sea: What really happened to the Chandlers

Paul and Rachel Chandler dreamt of sailing around the world in their boat, the Lynn Rival. Instead, they spent more than a year as hostages of Somali pirates. Using remarkable first-hand accounts, Jeffrey Gettleman pieces together the dramatic tale of a very modern kidnap
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The Independent Online

It wasn't really a pretty night," Rachel Chandler recalls. Small, sloshing waves were coming from the southeast, and a trickle of wind blew from the southwest. There was no moon, and the stars were shrouded by clouds. The boat was slowly edging away from Mahé, the main island in the Seychelles archipelago, for Tanga, Tanzania, the beginning of a two-week passage across the Indian Ocean. The wind was pushing them farther north than they'd planned. With no ships or land in sight, the Chandlers' 38-foot sailing boat, the Lynn Rival, bobbed along all alone.

Rachel, who is 57, was on watch while her husband, Paul, was asleep below deck. It was about 2.30am and she sat in a T-shirt and light trousers at the stern, feeling seasick. Because the wind was so faint, Rachel turned on the sailboat's small engine, which chugged along at five knots, just loud enough to drown out other noise.

By the time she heard the high-pitched whine of outboard motors at full throttle, she had only seconds to react. Two skiffs suddenly materialised out of the murk, and when she swung the flashlight's beam onto the water, two gunshots rang out.

"No guns! No guns!" she screamed.

The crack of assault rifles jarred Paul awake. "The first thing I thought," says Paul, who is 61, "was pirates." Within seconds, eight scruffy Somali men hoisted themselves aboard, their assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers clanging against the hull. Paul activated an emergency beacon, and then went up on deck. The men stank of the sea and nervous musk. "Stop engine!" they shouted. "Crew, crew! How many crew number?" Paul's heart sank when a pirate stomped below deck, discovered the emergency beacon, and promptly switched it off.

This was 23 October, 2009. The Chandlers would be held for the next 388 days. In the past few years, loosely organised gangs of Somali pirates, kitted out with fibreglass skiffs, rusty Kalashnikovs and flip-flops, have waylaid hundreds of ships and extracted ransom in exchange for their return. The worldwide shipping industry now spends billions of dollars on higher insurance premiums, armed guards and extra fuel to detour thousands of miles away from the Gulf of Aden, a congested shipping lane just off Somalia's coast leading to the Red Sea. Navies from more than two dozen countries patrol Somalia's coast, burning around a million dollars of fuel per day. And yet 2011 is on track to be another banner year for piracy, with more than 20 ships already seized, hundreds of seamen in captivity and the average ransom now fetching upward of $5m (£3m), a fortune anywhere but especially in a country with no government and an economy decimated by decades of war. Of all the thousands of people who have been held for ransom, though, few, if any, would endure as long – and as intimate – an experience behind pirate lines as Paul and Rachel Chandler.

"i fell in love with her voice," Paul says of his wife. It was London, 1979. He was an engineer; she was working for a supplier of windows. They talked on the phone about some construction project, and Paul was hooked. After a year and a half they married, and soon moved to Doha, Qatar, where Paul found work and Rachel learnt to sail. (Paul had been sailing since he was a child.) When they returned to England a few years later, they started out by buying a share in the Lynn Rival, a modest yacht,if there is such a thing, just big enough for oceanic trips. They never had children, and when they retired a few years ago, they began sailing full-time, exploring the Adriatic, the Red Sea, Egypt, India, Sudan, Oman and Eritrea, blogging about their adventures all the way.

It was a dreamy but hardly luxurious life. Paul would catch snapper in the hours before dawn and Rachel would fry them up for lunch. They'd bake their own bread and sleep onboard even when in port, to save on hotel costs. The Lynn Rival is a pretty, teak-trimmed boat, but she's 30 years old, and life aboard was filled with oiling, cleaning, tightening, rewiring and constantly fixing the cranky toilet.

They were fully aware that the Indian Ocean was a hunting ground for Somali pirates, but Paul is a Cambridge-trained engineer with a hyper-rational way of looking at the world, and he considered the risks of being hijacked to be equivalent to slamming into a partly submerged shipping container in the middle of the ocean: theoretically possible but very remote.

Technically, he's right. The odds of being captured stand at about 0.1 per cent. And the Seychelles, a sumptuous holiday spot, were pretty safe at that time.

"It was very hard to believe anybody would be interested in us," Paul says. "And while we were aware of the broader dangers..."

"It wasn't deemed high-risk," Rachel says, finishing his sentence, as each often does.

"It was a fluke of the wind that put us where we were," Paul continues.

Once the pirates were in control of the Lynn Rival, they ransacked it, stealing the couple's money, watches, rings, electronics, their satellite phone and clothes. After showering and draining the Chandlers' entire supply of fresh water, they started trying on outfits. A broad-shouldered buccaneer named Buggas, who appeared to be the boss, paraded up and down the deck wearing their waterproof trousers, while some of the others strutted around in Rachel's brightly-coloured trousers and blouses.

The pirates lashed their skiffs to the Lynn Rival and reset the course for Somalia. But with the winds so limp, Buggas needed a faster getaway, so he made contact with another group of pirates on the Kota Wajar, a recently hijacked Singaporean freighter. One of the pirates' newest strategic advances is the mother ship. Mother ships are larger vessels that serve as floating bases, with weeks of food and fuel aboard. They prowl the ocean with the faster attack skiffs tied alongside, allowing pirates to commandeer vessels 1,000 miles offshore. Their strike zone is now more than two million square miles of water, which is virtually impossible to patrol.

ust as the Chandlers' boat was about to tie up to the hijacked freighter, a British Navy ship started to close in. Buggas jammed his Kalashnikov in Paul's face, telling him he better radio the ship to back off. "Please turn away or we will be killed," Paul told the Navy, and moments later the ship slid away.

The Kota Wajar – which already had more than a dozen captured crewmen on board – lumbered 150 miles or so to the Somali coast, where it soon joined several other hijacked ships anchored near the beach, a floating community of hostages. Rachel remembers stepping into a skiff, petrified, and then slamming into a desolate beach. Dozens of men – all carrying guns – were working on the beach with disc cutters, welders and other power tools, preparing a fleet of boats for future hijacking missions.

Right behind the little base were two freshly washed Toyota trucks parked in the sand. As they stepped in, Rachel saw Buggas wearing Paul's Rolex and commented, "Oh, look, he's wearing your watch". One of the men sitting in the front seat overheard her and confronted Buggas, who then sheepishly handed the Rolex back to Paul. The man, who spoke English, was better dressed than Buggas and wasn't armed. He had an educated air; the Chandlers recall this as the first of their endless attempts to decipher in whose hands their fate really rested.

"We didn't know who these guys were," Mohamed Aden said of the pirates who took the Chandlers. "They were nobodies, people we call cockroaches, gangsters, new to the system. It was the first time they had brought anybody to land, the first time they had ever captured anybody. It took us six months to establish who they were."

Aden is the president of the Himan and Heeb administration, a small, clan-based government recently established in central Somalia. Two decades of unabated chaos has resulted in these tiny statelets, more than 20 to date, popping up across the country. The internationally recognised Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu has received millions of dollars in support from the United States and the United Nations. But the TFG was assembled outside the country and doesn't have much grass-roots support. It barely controls Mogadishu and is completely irrelevant in central Somalia.

Aden works from a shell of a house in Adado, a trading town about 200 miles from the coast. He dresses and talks like a rapper, with Kangol caps, baggy trousers and an iPhone. He is a naturalised American and spent years in Minneapolis running a small healthcare company before being drafted by elders in his clan, the Saleban, to spearhead the Himan and Heeb administration. He built a government from scratch, complete with police force, environmental laws and schools. But Aden still has a pirate problem. Technically, his jurisdiction extends to the coast, but Aden has no authority there; the area is controlled instead by pirate gangs, most of them fellow Saleban. "I don't have the firepower to take these guys on," Aden says. "I'd like to, but I can't."

Instead, Aden has become chummy with some of Somalia's more notorious pirates. One, 'Big Mouth', is considered one of the founding fathers of Somali piracy and recently branched into the business of distributing khat, the leaf millions of Somalis chew for a pleasant, mild high that provides a temporary reprieve from their bleak reality. Together, Aden and Big Mouth rebuilt Adado's airstrip to bring in more khat, now a major source of income for Aden's small administration (Aden taxes each flight) and Big Mouth's growing enterprise. "What am I going to do?" Aden says, with a smile. "I'm trying to develop my area."

After the Chandlers were taken, Aden went straight to Big Mouth to find out who the abductors were, but even Big Mouth didn't know. In recent years, as ransoms have climbed, thousands of destitute, uneducated Somali youth have jumped into the hijacking business. All anyone in Adado knew was that a young upstart named Buggas had taken the Chandlers to a desiccated smudge of a town called Amara, near the coast, and that Amara locals were backing him up. Local support is crucial, because holding hostages can become expensive. You need to keep them fed and heavily guarded, so a rival pirate gang or Islamist militia doesn't rekidnap them.

Paul Chandler figures it was costing Buggas nearly £12,000 a month to hold them hostage: around £200 per day spent on khat; £65 a day on goats; a couple of hundred more for tea, sugar, powdered milk, fuel, ammunition and other supplies. Then the payroll: cash for the pirate raiding party and 30 henchmen. On top of this come the translators, who charge a hefty fee to interact with the hostages and negotiate a ransom.

Pirates tend to operate on credit – borrowing all these resources from community members or other pirates, who will then get a cut, or in Somali, a sami, once a ransom is delivered. In Amara, rumours began to fly that the Chandlers were rich – possibly even MPs – and were therefore the ideal sami opportunity.

amara lies on a wind-raked plain, surrounded by sand dunes and scrub brush bristling with bone-white thorns. Buggas moved the couple around a lot, sometimes locking them in houses, other times setting up crude camps with plastic tarps stretched between the trees. For Rachel, the days blur. She would get up around dawn, when the desert was just bearably cool. Paul would sleep a little later. They would try their best to ingest a breakfast of goat liver and then wash up with a jerrycan of well water. They would read the few books they were allowed to grab from the yacht and write in their diaries. Paul tended to focus on the here and now: "Overcast, a little wind," reads one entry in neat blue ink. Rachel tended to be more introspective with longer entries in perfectly formed script. The smells they remember are sweat, the stinky perfume the pirates would douse themselves with and the scent of the charcoal, soaked in diesel. Sometimes, in the morning, if they felt motivated, they did yoga together; once Paul turned around to see half a dozen gunmen earnestly following along. It seemed everyone was horribly bored.

"I was struggling," Rachel told me this summer, as she sat in her small home in Dartmouth, where the Chandlers have been living since being freed. "I'd get through the early part of the morning, and then the heat and humidity would build up, and I'd be lying there thinking, I don't want to do anything, how am I going to get through the next 10 minutes, let alone 10 hours, let alone 10 days?" Lunch was plain spaghetti. Then nap time and maybe laundry. Sweetened boiled beans and rice for dinner. They didn't interact much with the pirates, who would occasionally bark at them to borrow their scissors or listen to their radio. Then sleep.

Buggas appeared to be calling all the shots, which dismayed the Chandlers because he seemed uneducated, temperamental and crass. He was supremely confident that he was on the verge of making millions.

"British government pay big money, no problem," he kept saying. "He wasn't an intelligent thug," Rachel says. "He was just a thug." She remembers him as around 33 years old, fairly thickset, with a round, chunky face, low forehead, small eyes, fleshy lips that he tended to leave open. He was constantly threatening them: "No money, you dead, kill you".

The problem was that the Chandlers didn't have much money. They had spent around £48,000 to buy and fix up the Lynn Rival, they owned a two-bedroom apartment in Tunbridge Wells worth around £160,000, and retirement accounts, which brought the total to around £320,000. The pirates scoffed at such petty cash, demanded £4.5m and told Paul to find a negotiator. He suggested the pirates call Rachel's older brother, Stephen Collett, a retired farmer back in England.

Collett, who is writing a book about the kidnapping, politely declined to discuss details about the 200 or so calls he made to the pirates. He still seems shaken. "How would you feel if you got a phone call from a guy who says, 'I got your sister and her husband at gunpoint, so you better send us everything you got and more and you'll be lucky if you get them back'?"

The Chandlers soon deduced that escape or rescue was unlikely. People were always coming by the camp – young men, young women and, as Rachel put it, "elderly-like characters" who would sit with the gang, talking, laughing, leisurely sipping little cups of tea, making it abundantly clear that the whole community was complicit. For Paul, who is unfailingly polite and gentle, a man whose voice rarely clears a whisper, this is what brings out the bitterness. "Everybody was in on it," he said. "I'm angry at Somali society. I'm angry at a community."

* a rough, industrial part of north-east London, next to a repair garage and behind an unmarked door, is Universal TV. It includes offices and a bare-bones TV studio; veiled Somali women drift in and out, and prayer-capped Somali men make the run up the street to get Fanta and crisps. If there is any nucleus of the Somali diaspora, any glue holding together a people who have been scattered by war and settled everywhere from Sydney to Minneapolis, it is Universal TV, which broadcasts news and other shows worldwide in Somali and is seen as keeping a sense of nationhood intact while Somalia sorts out its mess.

Ridwaan Haji Abdiwali is one of Universal's on-air news anchors, a 28-year-old refugee who was hit by a stray bullet during Somalia's civil war before fleeing to England seven years ago. He has thoughtful, hooded eyes and his own weekly television show called Have Your Say. More than anything, he is deeply embarrassed about his homeland, which has lurched from crisis to crisis since 1991, when clan warlords tore down the central government and then fought among themselves.

"It's a constant source of sorrow," Abdiwali said. "I feel guilty when I see my country. No education, no peace, no international relationships, no economy." But the hijacking of the Chandlers was especially shameful. It was all over the news, perfect tabloid fodder: two pensioner Brits "on the trip of a lifetime" now in the hands of Somali gunmen. Abdiwali started focusing his hourly show on the Chandlers and even called up Buggas and his fellow pirates and berated them on the air. "They're not rich ship owners," Abdiwali told the pirates. "These people are innocent and you should release them." His initial strategy, he told me, was to heap shame on the pirates and to show England that not all Somalis were criminals and morons.

After Somalia's central government collapsed 20 years ago, the 1,900-mile coastline became a free-for-all, with foreign fishing trawlers descending to scoop up the nation's rich stocks of tuna, shark, whitefish, lobster and deep-water prawn. The fishing boats used heavy steel drag nets that wiped out the marine habitat for years. Somali piracy was born when disgruntled fishermen armed themselves and started attacking the foreign trawlers. They soon realised they could attack any ship and get a ransom for holding the crew hostage.

"In the beginning, the pirates had a lot of support," explained Kayse Maxamed, a Somali who works in mental health in Bristol and who organised a 'Save the Chandlers' rally in early 2010. "Everybody liked them. They represented the Somali navy."

But the kidnapping of the Chandlers made many otherwise sympathetic Somalis realise the pirates were, at their most elemental level, simply seafaring extortionists who were giving Somalis a bad name. Maxamed and Abdiwali said they had absolutely no trouble getting hundreds of other British Somalis to join their cause.

By this point, Buggas and his gang were becoming extremely agitated. A small aeroplane had been buzzing over their camp – possibly British secret service – and the Chandlers' family in England, now three months in, was refusing to negotiate. "Family no speak," Buggas kept grumbling. He decided to separate the Chandlers to make them miserable so they would urge their relatives to cough up the cash. But the Chandlers refused and roped their arms around each other. "We didn't want to die alone," Rachel explains. "At the time, we couldn't see how we were going to get out of this place."

Buggas snatched up his gun and blasted three shots in the air. The Chandlers clutched each other even tighter. Buggas raced over to a tree and yanked out a root. With a big knife he stripped it smooth. He started ferociously whipping the Chandlers. They crumpled to the ground, and the other pirates pulled them apart. Though they had been threatened many times, the Chandlers had never been beaten. As several gunmen dragged Paul away, he caught a glimpse of Rachel on her knees, screaming: "Bastards! Murderers!". That's when Buggas ran up to her and smashed the back of his rifle into her jaw, shearing off a tooth.

hus began three long months of solitude. Paul tried to keep himself occupied, sketching and making a book of Somali words. The cook spoke to him occasionally. "I did have moments when I cried," Paul said. "I knew it wasn't productive. I was just treating myself to a few moments of it. I knew I could survive."

At this point Paul began his "begging calls" to relatives. While Rachel had qualms about leaning on family members, Paul said he saw the whole ordeal "purely as a commercial transaction. I would pay every penny I could scrimp, borrow or steal to get me and Rachel out of there". But even accessing their savings was complicated. The Chandlers were officially under duress, the family's solicitor informed Stephen, and therefore not considered mentally fit to hand over control of their accounts.

Paul dealt primarily with a translator named Ali, who was negotiating with Stephen. Ali didn't fraternise much with the guards; he wore crisp, button-down shirts, sunglasses, a gold wristwatch and gold chains. According to lawyers who handle piracy cases, pirate translators tend to be educated men from within the community who work for several different pirate gangs and are typically paid a flat fee, which can reach $200,000 (£130,000) – they are essentially white-collar pirates.

Rachel, meanwhile, was completely isolated. Buggas had instructed the guards not to talk to her. She started talking to herself and chanting, sometimes mimicking the call to prayer. "Shut up or I beat you!" Buggas would yell. It tormented her to think that Buggas and his gang were actually going to profit from her misery. She was completely powerless to control her fate – except in one way. She had hidden a couple of razor blades in her hut and fantasised about slitting her wrists at night so the pirates would wake up to find her in a pool of blood. "But the problem was I wouldn't be able to see their faces," she ultimately realised. "So what's the point of that?"

In late January, a doctor, Abdi Mohamed Elmi, known as Dr Hangul, was allowed to see the Chandlers. Mohamed Dahir, a Somali journalist, tagged along and filmed the visit, selling it to Sky News. Dahir was shocked at how bad Rachel looked. "She was sitting under a tarp in a bush camp, completely out of it," he said. "She had gotten even skinnier. She had trenches under her eyes. She kept saying: 'I need my husband. I want to see my husband before I die'."

The footage deeply unnerved the Somali community in Britain. People began to worry that the Chandlers might die in captivity. The pirates wouldn't intentionally kill them, but as the Somali diaspora knew, the desert is unforgiving. Abdiwali and the other members of the informal Free the Chandlers coalition began to recalibrate their strategy. It was time to play the clan card, they decided. Somalia is one of the most homogeneous countries on the planet, with nearly everyone sharing the same religion (Sunni Islam), the same language (Somali), the same race and same ethnicity, but Somalis are divided into a dizzying number of clans. Most areas are dominated by a single clan. Though pirates aren't totally responsive to clan structure, they are not immune from it either.

Abdiwali used his television show to focus pressure on the Saleban, the dominant clan in Amara and the clan of Buggas and his men. As the weeks passed and more British Somalis found themselves drawn into conversations about the Chandlers, in gathering places like the Blue Ocean restaurant in Shepherd's Bush or the Euro Discount Shop in Bristol (where bundles of khat are sold from cardboard boxes on the floor), the talk inevitably turned to the issue of clan.

"There was this huge debate," recalls Mursal Kadiye, a Saleban businessman who has been involved in several hostage negotiations, including helping resolve the hijacking of the Sirius Star, a Saudi supertanker seized with $100m (£65m) of oil inside. "People were saying: 'How can you guys let them do this? Don't you have political leaders? Don't you have clan elders? How can you let them hold two elderly people in Saleban territory?' It was embarrassing."

Kadiye's brother, Dahir Kadiye, a former taxi driver who recently set up a branch of an international security company in Mogadishu, started reaching out to fellow clansmen in Amara and Adado, warning them that if the Chandlers died, the world wouldn't just hold Somalia responsible; it would hold the Saleban responsible. In Amara, elders were hitting a similar note. But Buggas and the gang didn't budge. They needed money. Their operating expenses were growing daily, and they had many creditors – some heavily armed. By the spring, after the Chandlers had spent six months in captivity, local opinion was turning against Buggas and his crew. "The pirates were afraid to even walk around Adado," Dr Hangul says. He also told me that Buggas was not actually in charge: "He was working for three or four investors who were making the decisions."

in many Somali piracy cases, a committee of investors or creditors fronts the cash for the piracy mission, and it's up to the head gunman to deliver a tidy profit. But finally it seemed to dawn on Buggas and his creditors that they weren't going to make much of a profit. Stephen and Ali were negotiating a payment under a half-million dollars, all the Chandler family could afford and, for the pirates, a humiliating fraction of what corporate shipowners typically pay. (One pirate gang made $9.5m (£6m) last year by hijacking a Korean oil tanker called the Samho Dream.) Stephen started looking into chartering a plane in Nairobi to package the money and deliver it to Buggas.

Because of the profusion of hijackings over the past several years, several companies now specialise in making money drops. Buggas agreed to reunite the Chandlers while the arrangements were being finalised. When Rachel described seeing Paul for the first time in three months, her usual composure cracked, and she cried. "I thought, my goodness, he looks so old and frail," she said. "But then he smiled. And it was just Paul's smile. Even Buggas was standing benevolently by and saying, 'Are you happy?'."

In mid-June, Ali the translator showed up at the bush camp with a typed-out sheet of paper, in English, essentially a pirate contract, apparently standard pirate procedure. It stipulated that the Chandler family would pay $440,000 (£280,000) and "the pirates" would promptly release them. Ali signed the contract and faxed it to Stephen, who then spoke to Rachel. "The plane is on its way," she remembers Stephen saying. "See you in Nairobi soon."

But then nothing happened. Dejected, the Chandlers wondered whether Stephen got cold feet. When Mohamed Dahir, the journalist, returned in July, he whispered to the Chandlers that the money drop had been made; the pirates received nearly $450,000 (£285,000). Rachel exploded. "Bastards!" she yelled. "You got the money!"

Around this time, Aden was trying to cut his own deal. He was on the verge of attracting aid groups – word was beginning to spread that Adado was an oasis of stability in otherwise violent central Somalia – and the last thing he needed was to be associated with the imprisonment of Western hostages. He raised more than $50,000 (£30,000) from local businessmen and says he nearly persuaded Buggas and the gang to take it. But then people called from Nairobi and London and told Buggas to hold out for more. Often in pirate cases, strangers – typically Somali businessmen – insert themselves into the negotiations, offering their services to the families of captives or to the pirates in the hope of getting a slice of the ransom.

in november, Dahir Kadiye decided to go to Adado. His plan, he said, was to use the contacts he had made through his small security company to bring the Chandlers home. But what exactly happened after that remains murky. Aden and several others told me emphatically that Kadiye, along with Dr Hangul and other Saleban elders living abroad, cobbled together several hundred thousand pounds to pay off the pirates. The money was collected secretly, Aden said, and a rich Somali woman living in the Persian Gulf contributed about $100,000 (£65,000) to make sure the deal went through.

Dr Hangul has a different version. He recently told me that the Somali government, through Kadiye, paid the pirates several hundred thousand pounds after Somalia's president, Sheik Sharif, met with the then prime minister Gordon Brown, in March 2010. Somali officials wouldn't comment on whether they paid a ransom. A British diplomat familiar with the Chandler case said that the British Government "doesn't pay ransom, doesn't condone the paying of the ransom and doesn't encourage the paying of ransom", adding that if the Somali government "did contribute to the ransom – and I heard that too, though I can't say it's a fact – it certainly wasn't the result of any meeting or conversation with us". Kadiye denies that any additional money was paid. He says that all he used to lubricate the final deal was "systematic community pressure". The Chandlers said they had the impression that a second payment was made. One day, Buggas came up to them and said something like, "My Somali family give two hundred," referring to his clan. (The pirates always spoke in thousands.)

On 13 November, 2010, more than a year after they were taken, the Chandlers were told to pack their bags. They climbed into the Toyotas; it seemed as if the whole village of Amara piled into the sandy road to wave goodbye. "We weren't letting our hopes rise too high," Paul says, "but we had this sense." They drove for hours, heading west, deep into the desert. Buggas sat in the back of their truck, cheeks bulging with khat, a machine gun on his lap. His last words to them were, "Rachel, you go London tomorrow".

The next day at dawn, they stepped out of the truck and saw a Somali man approaching them. He was wearing a flak jacket and a baseball cap and had a British passport in his hand. He said, "I'm Kadiye, and I've come to take you home". He hugged them. "It was just extraordinary, this Somali hugging us," Rachel recalls giddily. "I just thought, this guy is for real, he must be a kind man, because we had not experienced that sort of true kindness that you can recognise in that way, somehow, in a hug."

It was at that instant, with Kadiye's arms around them, that the Chandlers realised they were finally free. But Kadiye said they were still in danger – other pirates or bandits might be lurking around, and they needed to move fast. They finally made it to Adado, where Aden served them tea, toast and eggs – "a full English breakfast," he joked – and then some officials with Somalia's transitional government helped fly the Chandlers to Mogadishu and on to Nairobi, Kenya.

After they arrived in London a few days later, Paul learnt to his distress that his 99-year-old father died while they were in captivity. But they were energised by a bright and surprising piece of news: the British Navy had recovered the Lynn Rival. She's now in a boatyard near Dartmouth, far from Somalia, where famine is sweeping the southern regions, Islamist militants have recently gone on another beheading spree and the pirates are growing more ambitious and more violent. In September, they struck on land in Kenya. In the middle of the night, they zoomed up in a speedboat to a fancy beach resort in Kiwayu, burst into a bungalow and attacked a British couple, David and Judith Tebbutt, killing David, bundling up Judith, and disappearing with her. Recent reports indicate they are now holding her hostage in – it turns out – Amara. Kadiye says he's trying to get involved.

They insist they have had no lasting damage from the experience, physical or psychological, except, in Paul's words, "We've spent 2 per cent of our lives in Somalia".

Shortly after they returned, the Chandlers agreed to a series of media interviews, and then started working on a book, Hostage, which was published last month. They did this with one goal in mind, they told me: to make enough money to pay back their families and fix their boat, which still has a bullet hole in the boom. But spending their time in such a sedentary way is clearly frustrating to them. They had planned to while away these years seeing the world. The Caribbean will probably be their first trip, next summer. "If you've got a breeze and you're just creaming along and nobody else is out there," Rachel says, her voice trailing off. "I love it. I feel I'm on my own, this little speck in our universe."