Terror at sea: 'I was walking in my husband's blood. From that moment on I knew I was fending for my life'

Wife of murdered sailor tells of her nine-hour ordeal at the hands of pirates

Chris Green
Thursday 26 March 2009 01:00

The British woman who survived a deadly attack by pirates off the Thai coast has described the horror of her nine-hour ordeal at sea, recalling how she was "trussed up naked like a chicken" and forced to walk in her murdered husband's blood.

Linda Robertson, 57, and her husband Malcolm, 64, were asleep in their yacht near the Buntang Islands when three Burmese men armed with hammers and machetes boarded the vessel. Police believe they bludgeoned Mr Robertson before slitting his throat and throwing him into the sea. Mrs Robertson repeatedly broke down as she recalled the terrifying night she had spent tied up naked and defenceless in her cabin, convinced she was going to die, after hearing the men murder her husband.

Speaking from her hospital bed in Satun, southern Thailand, she said she and her husband had slept in separate cabins on Monday, when the attack took place, because of the stifling heat.

"I heard the sound of people clambering aboard," she recalled. "I was naked. It was a very hot night. Three young men came in. They were holding hammers and they tied and gagged me. Then they went towards the forward cabin and I heard my husband shouting 'get off my boat'.

"I heard a scuffle and did not hear any more. They came back to me and made signs to me to start the engine, which I did. There was no sign of my husband. I waited and listened, and I think this was the first time I realised he might be dead. The night was pitch black and the boat headed north. They put me back in my cabin all trussed up. But as I walked through the boat I realised I was walking through the blood of my husband."

The couple, from St Leonards, East Sussex, had spent the past 10 years sailing round the world in their 44ft yacht Mr Bean, leaving the successful coffee-shop business they had built in the UK in the care of relatives. They had planned to return home this year. Mrs Robertson continued: "From that moment on I knew I was fending for my life and might have to fight for it or take my chance in the ocean. I made gestures as if to ask, 'Are you going to kill me?' They made signs to say no.

"One, the youngest, was trying to be kind even though he was guarding me with a machete. He kept saying 'I am sorry' – possibly one of the few English phrases he knew – and he brought me some food and drink. By 6am it was already quite light. We had been motoring for over five hours and the dawn gave me hope. My hands and feet were swelling because I was trussed up naked like a chicken. It was all very degrading. I could not cover anything up. But if you think you are going to die, all such matters become secondary.

"The boat stopped. It was then my thoughts turned to escape. One of the men came down and asked me how to put down the anchor. It was then that they started to ransack the boat.

"I could still neither see nor hear any sound of my husband. But earlier there had been a sound and movement as if something was being moved to another boat. I realised later it was my husband being put into the sea. I thought, 'This is the time to escape.' I tried to dive off the boat, but left it too late and I was caught off balance. I started to run away from them. I was on top forward, next to the hatch above my husband's bunk, and I was standing in his blood. They caught me and tied me even more severely. Then we headed north for another three hours or so, and the boat started to slow again."

Mrs Robertson said she thought the yacht had sailed about 70 or 80 miles north by the time the pirates dropped anchor again, at around 9.30am. "I could see fishing boats," she said. "The men put me back in the cabin and shut the hatch, and I heard them start the engine of the rubber dinghy. I managed to free myself and get out on to the deck. I knew the dinghy would play up and had to act quickly. I switched on the emergency position indicating radio beacon. Then I looked to see, to my horror, that the pirates were attempting to paddle back to the boat. If they knew I had switched on the distress system I thought they would kill me for sure. I ran and pulled up the anchor. Luckily they had played out only 30ft of chain, so it was quite easy.

"I started the engine and headed out towards the fishing boats. I looked around and saw the pirates heading towards the shore. I could not believe they had left me. I started waving my sarong and shouted 'Mayday'. I had to almost ram them to get their attention. I pulled Mr Bean alongside one of the boats. I jumped off my boat on to the fishing boat. I would not go back to my boat. I did not want to feel Malcolm's blood on my feet.

"They could see I was distressed, but they did not understand what I was saying, so they called the police. Then along came a launch with four policemen in camouflage gear. Shortly afterwards they brought all the men back and told me they were Burmese migrant workers who were working with the local fishing fleet. I recognised them immediately. Some of them were even wearing Malcolm's clothes."

Yesterday, Mr Robertson's body had still not been recovered, and his widow said it was impossible to pinpoint exactly where the yacht had been when the pirates threw him overboard. Thai police said they intended to ask the prosecutor to call for the death penalty for all three men, who have all reportedly confessed to the murder. Both Mr and Mrs Robertson have children from previous relationships, who are expected to arrive in Thailand today.

Her brother, John Clee, said yesterday she had told him she felt guilty about spending so much time thinking about her own safety rather than worrying about her husband. He added that she had been discharged from hospital and was now staying at a hotel, but would have to return to the yacht to help police with their enquiries.

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