Interview With Paul And Rachel Chandler: British Couple Taken Hostage By Somali Pirates (3)

(From last week)

How much was paid for your release?
PAUL: Our family raised $440,000, which they dropped to the gang by plane in June 2010. And then we weren't released.
They just kept the money?
PAUL: They decided to keep us and the money and we heard nothing for months, meanwhile, this chap Dahir was working for our release in the background and we had no clue.

How did your family raise the money?
PAUL: They wouldn't tell us the source of the money. They were so supportive; they just wanted us to get our lives back. They said, 'Don't worry about the money.' But we have paid back all the expenses they incurred. Their expenses in paying the $440,000 ransom were about $150,000 as well.

And did Dahir or someone else pay additional money to secure your release?
PAUL: We don't know. He told us he didn't raise any money. Whether that's true, we don't know. We've met him several times since and I don't see why he'd lie to us, but he must have had considerable expenses in securing our release. There have been suggestions that the Somali government paid some money, but we don't know. I think it would be very unlikely if no more money changed hands.

What have you been doing since you were released?
PAUL: Settling back in, coping with my father's death – he died at 99 while we were in Somalia. The Royal Navy salvaged our boat and we had it taken to Dartmouth, so we could work on her. Now she's in ship shape again. Our families said 'You ought to be write a book,'so we did. We've been working hard on the boat and last week we finally moved back on board.

What are your plans now?
PAUL: We're going to head south and resume traveling to exciting places, meeting different people. We're going down the coast of Western Europe, taking in Spain, Portugal, Morocco, the North African coast, Cape Verde, and then head down to Brazil. We'll keep going as long as we're fit. Who knows where we'll end up?

Will you ever go anywhere near Somalia again?
PAUL: I wouldn't go north of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. I'd want to be at least 2,000 miles away. But who knows, maybe by the time we get around to that part of the world again, the situation in Somalia will have changed. Maybe it will be safe to go there again.

Has it taken a long time to build up the courage to get back on your boat?
PAUL: No, not at all. I lost upper body strength and you need that in sailing. But mentally we have no problems at all.

What lessons did you learn from this ordeal?
PAUL: It strengthened our relationship, which was already strong. It reinforced the values we both hold. It made us far more appreciative to have been born in the small faction of the world that is safe and secure.

Do you feel hatred, forgiveness or some other emotion toward your captors?
RACHEL: I never felt hatred toward them. I felt sad that they are in the position they're in, that they've stooped so low. A lot of people are very poor but don't stoop to kidnapping. But I can see how they were drawn into it. People like Buggaf who make a living from piracy and direct others to do it, I despise them. They haven't asked for forgiveness, so I don't think I need to forgive them. I just hope that the law might catch up with them someday.

Do you think that the same pirates who took you hostage are still out attacking boats right now?
RACEHL: I'm sure they're trying to do the same thing right now. But it's become more difficult because ships are really increasing their security. Seven of the gang members who attacked us left after five days at sea to attack a French fishing trawler. They were apprehended and have been in jail in Mombasa for the last three years. They were just found guilty and were sentenced to twenty years in prison.

Did you have a hard time adapting to life at home after being released?
RACHEL: It was very strange. There was a lot of media attention. Our muscles had degenerated. Mentally, it was a process of getting used to normality. When you live with so little for so long, it's a shock coming back to our complex world. Some people were wary of us because they assumed we must have been really scarred.

Did you get tired of people asking you why you strayed too close to Somalia?
RACHEL: People in the sailing community knew the situation. Lots of people stood up for us. Those who criticize don't know anything about sailing or the situation at the time. On the Internet, people hide behind their computers and say nasty things.
Does the British Foreign Office now recommend against sailing in the area you were in?
RACHEL: Now they recommend boats don't stray more than six miles off the main islands in the Seychelles but they still don't tell people not to go there or charter yachts. If we'd left an hour earlier or an hour later, they would have missed us – it was very bad luck. You're taking a chance sailing anywhere in the Seychelles.

Has your experience diminished your love of sailing?
RACHEL: Not at all. Cruisers tend to be very resilient people. If you're adventurous, that doesn't change. We don't want to wrap ourselves up and stay home. We want to get back to the life we imagined, so it's important for us to get back on our boat.

*Concluded