British couple seized by pirates ask government for help

Kunal Dutta
Sunday 23 October 2011 01:22

The British couple kidnapped by Somalian pirates last October have made a desperate appeal to David Cameron to clarify his position on their plight. Paul and Rachel Chandler, from Turnbridge Wells, Kent, have been held around the pirate stronghold of Haradheere in Somalia since they were first abducted while sailing between the Seychelles and Tanzania last October.

In an appeal broadcast on Channel 4 News yesterday, Mr Chandler, a 60-year-old retired civil engineer, urged Mr Cameron to speak out in a hope of opening a diplomatic line of communication that the previous administration kept firmly shut.

"As a new Prime Minister we desperately need him to make a definitive public statement of the Government's attitude to us," he said.

"We're two British citizens, we've been kidnapped in the Seychelles, it was a perfectly safe place to be. If the Government is not prepared to help, then they must say so, because the gangsters' expectations and hopes have been raised at the thought of a new government and there might be a different approach."

Fears for the safety of the couple intensified this month with reports that Haradheere had fallen to hardline insurgent group Hizb-ul Islam. The town, 250 miles north east of Somalia's capital Mogadishu, is regarded as a pirate stronghold.

Mr Chandler, speaking to a Somali journalist from a secret location in the African bush, was eager that their case was not just recorded as another pirate-related abduction. "It's not piracy," he said. "This is absolutely not piracy and mustn't be reported as such. It is kidnapping and extortion and even torture."

The Chandlers, both retired professionals, were kidnapped in the early hours of 23 October when armed men stormed their yacht, the Lynn Rival, as it sailed from the Seychelles towards Tanzania. Their captors are continuing to demand a $7m (£4.2m) ransom, which the British Government has so far refused to pay.

They have now been held for more than seven months, revealing yesterday that almost half their time in captivity has been spent separated in solitary confinement. "We are just animals to them," said Rachel, a 56-year- old economist.

"We have been kept caged up like animals. They don't care about our feelings and our family and our lives and what they've taken. They don't care whose lives they ruin. They just want the money.

"They don't understand that we are just ordinary people. They think we come from a rich country and that if they point a gun at us and threaten us that we will find a way of raising money."

Rachel Chandler was last filmed in January when she appeared to have lost weight and spoke in distress. Reports since have speculated that she was raped or shot, but this appears to have been a mix of pirate propaganda and media hype.

"They never tell us what's happening next," Rachel said in the tape broadcast yesterday. "Especially when we were isolated, when we were on our own, simply not knowing what was happening and whether we would be together again – when, where each other was, was real torture, mental torture."

The couple added that they have enough medicine and food, with the pirates serving up local dishes including goat's liver, a Somali delicacy.

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: "Paul and Rachel Chandler are innocent tourists. They were sailing their yacht when taken hostage by a criminal gang seven months ago. The UK Government's policy of not making or facilitating substantive concessions to hostage-takers, including the payment of ransoms, is long-standing and clear. This has been the policy of successive governments and has not changed."

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