21 Jan 2010

‘Brutal treatment’ of pirate kidnap couple

In an ITV exclusive, Paul Chandler, who is being held hostage by Somali pirates, criticises the Royal Navy – and says he may have just days to live.

In an ITV News exclusive, Paul Chandler says he believes he and his wife Rachel have just days to live. They have been held hostage at several locations, on land at sea, since October.

In a similar appeal to a video plea, obtained by Channel 4 News in November, Mr Chandler spoke about his despair.

On this occasion he highlights the couple’s brutal treatment at the hands of their captors. Mr Chandler also claims for the first time that he believes the Royal Navy missed an opportunity to save them.

Three months ago the retired couple from Kent were sailing round the world in a small yacht bought with their life savings.

Then on 22 October their lives were turned upside down when Somali pirates boarded their boat in the Indian Ocean.

Since then, stalemate. The couple do not have the backing of corporate insurance like large shipping companies, and the British government does not pay ransom.

Death threats
It is thought the kidnappers holding the Chandlers are getting increasingly desperate, and the couple have again said fear they will soon be killed.

Channel 4 News obtained exclusive footage in November of the Chandler’s describing how scared they had become. A new interview conducted today with ITV News, by phone, reveals they have been separated from one another, and badly beaten.

Split up
Somali sources have told Channel 4 News the couple were taken to different locations in December, after the pirates saw planes hovering above.

They became suspicious security forces were close and that a raid was imminent. They wanted to make sure that if either of the Chandlers were captured, they still had the other. We understand they are being moved around the area surrounding Somali port town of Haradeere.

Two weeks ago the Chandlers were briefly reunited. Sources have told us they immediately went on hunger strike, and were badly beaten by the pirates. Rachel lost one, maybe two teeth.

Talking today to ITV news, Mr Chandler said: “We were beaten, we tried to stay together. They threw us to the ground and whipped us and beat Rachel with a rifle butt.

“I was dragged off and taken to a different location. I was allowed to telephone her (Rachel) about 12 days ago.

“She said she was being tormented all the time, she said she was giving up.”

Missed opportunity
Mr Chandler has also revealed how close the Royal Navy were when he and his wife were taken hostage.

The supply ship Wave Knight was only metres away when the couple were transferred from the pirates’ mother ship to a small launch but navy snipers were told not to open fire in case the Chandlers were killed in any subsequent gunfight.

Mr Chandler added: “I don’t blame them because we were told to tell them on the radio to stand off, otherwise we would be killed and there were men with guns.

“They took that at face value. With hindsight, that might have been the opportunity to call their bluff.”

Force fed
Somali sources have told Channel 4 News the Chandlers are now being force-fed. It is thought Paul is complying, while Rachel is insistent: she doesn’t want to eat.

Allegedly the pirates are keen to offload their hostages. Keeping the Chandlers “safe” is costing a lot of money and they fear they will be stolen by local rivals.

The pirates claim at least three radical Islamist groups, as well as numerous local clan militias are keen to abduct the Chandlers for their own purposes.

Ransom demands
Ransom payments for merchant hostages in Somalia have skyrocketed over the last two years, from an average $1.5m USD per case in 2007, to $3m USD at the end of 2009 (Source: Exclusive Analysis).

Nick Davies, a British man experienced in ransom negotiations, raised around £100,000 for their return at the turn of the year.

He made contact with people from the pirates’ clan, who claimed they would be able to resolve the issue. But Channel 4 News understands the offer never got through to the individuals actually holding the couple.

Mr Davies says the Chandlers‘ family – via the Foreign Office – did not want to be involved in the deal and it did not go any further.