The long road to the Chandlers' release

By Frank Gardner
BBC security correspondent

Image caption,
Many people worked towards securing the eventual release of Rachel and Paul Chandler

In the story of the scourge of Somali piracy, Sunday's news brings to a close one of the longest-running hostage crises in the region.

A retired English couple, held at gunpoint with no big, multinational shipping company behind them to bail them out, were freed at last after 13 months of stop-start negotiations.

Two factors contributed to their release: the payment of ransoms and the benevolent intervention of the Somali community, both in the UK and in Somalia.

When Somali pirates seized Rachel and Paul Chandler off the Seychelles, hundreds of nautical miles from Somali shores, they took them first to the Somali port of Haradheera and then inland.

A pirates spokesman gave a radio interview demanding a ransom of US $7,000,000 (£4.6m) and those holding them refused to believe they were anything other than millionaires.

First payment

The pirates also appeared to believe that the British government would, if necessary, pay the ransom, despite the fact that Britain has a longstanding policy of "not making substantive concessions to hostage-takers" on the grounds that this encourages more kidnappings of British citizens.

But negotiations continued behind the scenes involving Somali intermediaries and a firm of consultants hired by the Chandlers' relatives in Britain.

In June a deal was reached and an airdrop of close to US$430,000 (£267,000) was made to the pirates in Somalia.

Opinions differ on whether the pirates then reneged on the deal, deciding to hold onto both the money and the Chandlers, or whether there was a misunderstanding and that the pirates believed all along this would only be the first tranche of a larger sum. Either way, the Chandlers remained in captivity.

This was a terrible and unexpected blow for both the Chandlers themselves and their relatives back home. Those advising the family concluded that the sudden flurry of media interest on the possible imminent release of the couple had, inadvertently, contributed to their extended detention.

Pirate's payout

So, during the summer, a law firm representing the Chandlers acquired a legal super-injunction, preventing the media from reporting anything about the couple's condition or negotiations for their release.

That ban remained in force until Sunday, when the Chandlers were released following what is believed to be the payment of a second ransom and the tireless work of Somali clan elders, political leaders, negotiators and expatriates.

While the ultimate outcome is of course a happy one for the Chandlers, who can now start to live their own lives again, there are of course, implications for the future of Somali piracy.

The bottom line for the gang who have been holding the couple for the past 13 months is that their crime has been rewarded with the best part of a million dollars, a huge sum in an impoverished country, even when it will be divided up amongst many claimants.

It is thought unlikely that all or perhaps any of those responsible will be brought to justice in a country without an effective government since 1991.

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