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Hostage: A Year at Gunpoint with Somali Pirates

Hostage: A Year at Gunpoint with Somali Pirates

by Paul Chandler

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On October 23, 2009, Somali pirates kidnapped Paul and Rachel Chandler from their sailing boat, the Lynn Rival, in the Seychelles, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean. In this remarkable memoir, the Chandlers recount their terrifying ordeal, revealing the inspiring and poignant story behind the dramatic headlines. The book chronicles the aftermath of the


On October 23, 2009, Somali pirates kidnapped Paul and Rachel Chandler from their sailing boat, the Lynn Rival, in the Seychelles, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean. In this remarkable memoir, the Chandlers recount their terrifying ordeal, revealing the inspiring and poignant story behind the dramatic headlines. The book chronicles the aftermath of the attack, and how the Chandlers’ captors held them in Somalia for more than a year while trying to extort millions of dollars from their middle-class family. It goes on to describe how despite enduring threats, intimidation, solitary confinement, and even whippings, their unshakable belief in each other and their determination to survive sustained them. With its detailed, day-to-day account of the experience of being held captive by pirates, this unique and inspiring story will resonate with travelers the world over.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
While sailing in the Seychelles in 2009, retired Britons Paul and Rachel Chandler were kidnapped by heavily-armed Somali pirates and held for ransom for over a year in the hijackers' homeland before finally being released. Here, with the help of ghostwriter Edworthy, the couple tell their riveting tale in no-frills prose that shifts swiftly back and forth between Paul and Rachel's perspective. The account of their initial capture is thrilling, but being held hostage for over a year means a lot of idle hours—the couple did yoga, played Patience, created and solved crossword puzzles, and wrote in their journals. But it is the entries composed during the weeks when Paul and Rachel were split up—often without knowledge of the other's safety or well-being—that reveal their dedication to and love for one another. Transcripts of phone calls between the couple and family members back home regarding the exorbitant ransom are both painful and fascinating, revealing tense emotional bonds and sobering financial realities. A noteworthy account of this century's version of crime on the high seas. Photos, illus., and maps. (Sept.)
From the Publisher

"A noteworthy account of this century's version of crime on the high seas." — PublishersWeekly.com

"A brutal saga, of course, but also an uplifting one, a story of hope and determination in the face of a seemingly inevitable outcome." — Booklist Online

"Particularly well-written: taut, tense, [and] very gritty."  —Sailing Today

"Gripping . . . a deeply moving story of stoicism, pride, and resilience with a happy ending worthy of a Hollywood film."  —Jimmy Cornell, author of World Cruising Routes, Noonsite

"The narrative is gripping and an easy read in one sitting--truly a page-turner." — Ocean Navigator

"You won't be able to put this one down."  —Latitudes & Attitudes

"A tender account of [the Chandlers'] devotion to each other, and ultimately a triumphant story of overcoming the odds."  —BoatU.S.

"A miraculous adventure story . . . a fascinating, no-frills account. . . . This raw, cautionary tale [is] a page-turner."  —Cruising World

Product Details

Chicago Review Press, Incorporated
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.40(d)

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A Year at Gunpoint with Somali Pirates

By Paul Chandler, Rachel Chandler, Sarah Edworthy

Chicago Review Press Incorporated

Copyright © 2011 Paul and Rachel Chandler
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61374-445-1


Pirate attack

Friday, 23 October 2009

0000-0400: Rachel's watch

The night is murky, with neither moon nor starry constellations to lighten the dark expanses of sea and sky around us. As we motor-sail onward, only the occasional whirring of the electric autopilot interrupts the all-encompassing drone of the engine. My head is fuzzy and I'm feeling queasy. I sit on deck next to the wheel, trying not to look at my watch. Time is passing slowly tonight. I go through the motions: keeping a look out, monitoring the instruments, allowing myself to doze in the knowledge that my alarm will buzz every 11 minutes to keep me alert.

Today has been a classic case of me thinking, 'Why am I doing this?' The first three days of a long sail are tough. Once I get my sea legs, I'm fine. We prepare ourselves by eating well and resting as much as we can, but it's often not until day four that I stop feeling sick. Paul is usually OK.

When we left Port Victoria in the Seychelles yesterday for Tanzania, the winds were forecast to be light and variable. In fact, they have been against us from the south-west. The swell is coming from the south-east. There isn't enough wind to drive us comfortably through the 'uppy-downy' sea, and we've been forced to sail on a more westerly course than intended. The conditions are nauseating. I am low and grumpy, but determined to do my full watch because Paul needs his sleep. Two hours in, I'm telling myself that I'll get a lie-down soon, that at least it's warm, and in forty-eight hours I will feel fine.

The wind is dropping and the sails are no longer filling. I should take them down and change course back to the direct route for the Amirante Islands. It is almost 0230. There's a strange noise, a new hum noticeable above the familiar throb of our engine. It sounds like something approaching from astern. I glance over my shoulder and discern through the darkness an unlit narrow open boat accelerating towards us. Who can this be? There are fishermen in the area – we saw one at around 2100 – but they usually keep their distance. To be homed in on by a vessel at night is unusual. I fear the worst – a hostile attack – but I hope there is another explanation. After all, we are in the Seychelles archipelago, less than a day's sailing from the main island of Mahé.

I grab a torch and direct it at the boat. A skiff packed with shadowy figures is now almost upon us. Two shots ring out, making me drop the torch in fright. A jumble of arms get ready to grab hold of our guard wires, men jostling to clamber on board, guns clattering. The 16-foot, flat-bottomed skiff slams into our side.

Without thinking, I put up my hands and shout, 'No guns, no guns!' I want them to know we are unarmed. A second skiff appears within seconds on the other side to complete the entrapment. My mind races. Who are these people and what do they want? But I have no time to think. They are hostile, and I must concentrate on staying alive.

There is a tremendous kerfuffle as eight black men, mostly young and gangly, scramble over the rails, stumbling and struggling to find room to stand on the narrow deck while keeping hold of their guns. At least five rifles point menacingly at me. The men shout at each other in an incomprehensible language. A few have small torches. Narrow rays of light rake the air, randomly highlighting whites of eyes in nervous faces. Some wrestle to tie on their skiffs, while others seek to establish some authority over us. They bark commands at me in basic English.

'Stop engine!'


I'm frozen to my spot behind the wheel, with my hands up, but realise I must do as they say. I shift the gear lever to put the engine into neutral and switch on the deck light. We slow down and start wallowing in the ocean swell with the boom swinging from side to side. The men are jumpy, still shouting at one another, gesticulating with their guns.

'Crew? Number?'

'Two. Me. And man,' I shout, indicating below.

'Crew, up, up!'

One attacker keeps shouting for lights, but we already have all our lights on. We don't have the capacity to light up like a Christmas tree! They are waiting for something, nervously scanning the surrounding sea, fighting to hold on with the movement of the boat, hindered by the boom swinging back and forth. I realise they want more lights so that others, following behind, can locate them. They seem as confused as me as to what happens next.

I'm slowly beginning to think. Our attackers must be Somali pirates. How did they get here, so far from Somalia, so close to the Seychelles? Why are the warships not stopping them? What is the Seychelles coastguard doing with all the new resources they are supposed to be deploying? Why weren't we warned when we left Port Victoria? Surely these groups of pirates must be easy to spot.

'Paul! Please come up,' I call out tensely, horrified by what is happening to us.

Paul sleeps naked and uncovered on the starboard bunk in the saloon. It's the most comfortable berth in the tropical heat and humidity.

I'd become conscious of an increase in engine speed, then the crack of gunshots brings me to full wakefulness. I hear Rachel scream, 'No guns! No guns!', and sit up in shock, frozen. There is a lot of noise from above, thumps to the side of the hull, shouting in a strange language and slamming of hatches on deck. I wrestle with the choice – Y-fronts or contact lenses? Or should I hide in the forecabin? Instead, I press the big red button on the EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) and warily climb up the steep steps to the deck.

The cockpit is full of dark men standing on the seats with guns aimed at Rachel and now at me. The overcast sky prevents all but the occasional light from the moon. The man questioning Rachel looks at me.

I indicate my nakedness and point below: 'Clothes?'

The man gestures OK, so I drop back to the saloon and grab T-shirt, pants and shorts. I'm keen to get back on deck and keep their attention away from the EPIRB, its light flashing as it sends out a distress signal. I know if it is only on for a short time we can't rely on its signal being received.

Back in the cockpit, I exchange glances with Rachel. Our attackers make it clear we must keep quiet. And apart. They keep asking, 'Men? Crew?' They expect us to have more crew on board. We repeat, 'Only two.' Men go below to check.

Another looks closely at Rachel: 'You, man? Woman?'

With her short hair, dressed in polo top and leggings, they're not sure.

We wait for their next move. What do these thugs want from us? At least they have not realised that the EPIRB is transmitting. I wish it didn't have such an obvious flashing light giving away its activation ...

Once activated, the EPIRB sends a signal every 50 seconds or so, via satellite, to the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency. If it's doing its stuff, Falmouth will soon be forwarding data to the Seychelles coastguard, who should launch a search-and-rescue operation. A search by aircraft and coastguard vessels will easily find us come dawn. We have to be patient and sit out the next few hours as calmly as possible.

Another boat slams into our stern; more men clamber aboard. More guns. One of the new arrivals takes charge. He stares at us, then grunts instructions to the others. More clambering about, weapons being passed around; then, with much banging on deck, two rocket launchers and a bag of rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) are taken from the skiffs up to Lynn Rival's foredeck.

The new boat is a larger open vessel, like an old-fashioned ship's lifeboat. This must be their mother boat, laden with barrels of supplies. Two men tie her on to the stern of Lynn Rival. The alpha male tells us his name is Buggas – he's strong and heavily built, about 5 ft 9 in., and looks to be in his early 30s. Buggas demands to know our nationality.

'You French?'

'No, British,' we say, indicating our red ensign, which is hanging limp on the flagstaff in the calm.

He points to our drooping Seychelles courtesy flag at the spreaders and insists, 'France! France!'

Is he worried or keen that we might be French?

'No, British,' we repeat.

Buggas doesn't seem happy. He breaks off to go below and look around. He notices the EPIRB flashing and angrily gestures at it, shouting for Paul to go below and switch it off.

I turn off the EPIRB and, surprisingly, Buggas leaves it sitting on the chart table.

Is this a nightmare? Attacked by pirates less than 60 miles west of the main island of Mahé, where 17 hours earlier we completed our departure formalities at the capital, Port Victoria. We're still well within the Seychelles archipelago. About 70 miles west lie the northernmost islands of the Amirantes, one of the outer groups of islands much loved by couples seeking a quiet romantic getaway. And roughly 80 miles south in that island chain is Desroches, the largest of the Amirantes, where we had planned to anchor for a few hours before finally waving goodbye to the paradise that is the Seychelles.

Buggas comes back on deck and confers with the man who questioned us about crew. We think he must be second-in-command and mutter to each other the nickname, '2IC'.

Buggas demands money: 'Give me dollar!'

While cruising, I look after our cash flow, so I glance at Paul and volunteer to respond. Tentatively, I step forward. 2IC gestures with his gun for me to go below, then follows. I find the small canvas holdall that serves as my handbag and give him my purse with credit cards, US dollars and Euros, about £130 worth in total. We have a stash of $1,500 hidden away, but I don't want to give them that. 2IC grabs my handbag, empties out the contents and hands it to one of the youngsters. He counts the money in my purse and says, 'Small.' I explain we have no need for money at sea; we will get what we need from a bank in Tanzania, using plastic cards. 2IC is incredulous and sends me back on deck.

As I go up to the cockpit, I get a brief glimpse of others searching the boat, going through the lockers one by one. Now it's Paul's turn. Buggas takes him down below while I sit, closely guarded, anxious about what will happen next.

'Where money? Have money? Search money! Search gold!'

I don't know what Rachel has revealed, but I now know there are ten ruthless and jumpy men aboard Lynn Rival, each with an AK-47 automatic assault rifle, as well as rocket propelled grenade launchers. It is probably not a good idea to say 'No'. I open the drawer in the aft cabin and give him my money – about £25 and a few Seychelles rupees – as well as my diving watch.

'Money! Search money ... Give 20,000 dollar – you go.'

'Small boat, small money.'

'You lie! Money? Search money.'

I am beginning to understand the one-track mind of the Somali pirate. I reach under Rachel's bunk, into the 'hidey hole' and pull out our cash reserve, about $1,500. I don't want to risk being caught out in a lie. I'm resigned to losing everything of value but hope they will soon realise the poverty of their target, rob us and move on.

Over the years, we've heard about armed attacks on yachts in various places around the world, including the Gulf of Aden, the Caribbean, South America, the Malacca Straits and even in the Mediterranean. We've often discussed what our tactics would be in the event of an attack. Our conclusion is always that it's best to comply when dealing with irrational people. The aim must be survival. As experienced sailors, we have a basic resilience; we trust each other not to jeopardise a situation by doing anything other than keeping our heads down and staying calm. So, though we are frightened and confused, we have confidence in each other and are able to function.

When Buggas orders Paul to motor towards Somalia with few words but much emphatic swinging and gesturing of an AK-47, he duly follows orders.

I put the engine in gear and set the course as directed. 2IC checks with a handheld GPS (Global Positioning System). He shows me: 325 degrees. I'm allowed to look at the handset and see it's hacked and hardwired to show only the direction back to their base in Somalia. Buggas shouts, 'Run, run!' – meaning full speed ahead! This is crazy, as poor Lynn Rival's auxiliary engine will be severely overloaded towing their three boats.

Buggas keeps pressing us for money and valuables: 'Give me gold!' He follows me below to find it: my treasured wedding ring, watch, earrings. He secretes them away, saying dismissively, 'Small, no good.'

'Where dollar? Give me 20,000 dollar!'

I say we don't have 20,000 dollars.

'Man speak you 20,000 dollar.'

He's trying to trick me, and I register he is more manipulative than a plain thug. I repeat, 'We don't have 20,000 dollars.'

He hits back: 'No 20,000 dollar – bad things – you Somalia.'

I say I can do nothing. Frustrated, he shouts 'Up!' – a sign for me to go on deck, where he snarls, 'You liar!' and 'Shut up!', as if he's suddenly remembered these phrases. He sits and broods, then barks at members of the gang. Some continue to search the boat; others position themselves on deck, two with their guns trained on us. I sit, numb, with a sinking feeling that these men will not give up easily, trying not to be frightened of the guns.

The men have been on board for an hour or so now, still on edge and alert to our every move. Buggas is extraordinarily suspicious of anything that makes a noise or flashes. And when he is jumpy, his men are scared witless. They don't use the safety catches on their AK-47s; they don't care where they are pointed. So, no sudden movements. Submission and cooperation are the order of the day. They see Rachel's seasickness relief band and demand she throw it overboard. They take our Man Overboard wrist tags, smash them and chuck them away. They make us remove our life jackets and take out the gas cylinders that inflate them.

I sit and watch in despair. Our home, our life, all our hard work and planning is being destroyed by these mindless, greedy thugs. Why can't they see that we're small beer? They're wasting their time. Why don't they take what they can and go looking for a ship? Perhaps dawn will bring a new light. Perhaps our EPIRB signal will have been picked up. Will anyone know we're in distress? Will anyone send help?

Just before dawn, Buggas turns his attention to communications.

'Phones! Satphone! Search!'

Off we go again. I hand over two old but treasured Nokia 6310i, each with a Seychelles SIM card, and the satphone – a Thuraya with a dual GSM/satellite SIM card.

Buggas knows about Thuraya. His face lights up and he switches it on.

I laugh. 'No good,' I say. Neither Rachel nor I expect it to work; we've been unable to get a signal anywhere near the Seychelles and don't expect to get reception until we are close to Africa. After a short delay, it works. A signal! The luck of the bad guys!

Buggas dials and begins shouting to someone he calls 'Arbou', presumably a pirate mate. We can't understand a word. We pick up 'British'. The odd glance from Buggas confirms that he's talking about us.

Dawn. Lynn Rival is heading north-west on autopilot, engine straining at full throttle. Three men on deck surround us – their assault rifles aimed carelessly at us – then shepherd us below.

'Down! No speak!'

Two of them follow us down into the saloon, where they keep their AK-47s trained on us. They gesticulate with their guns, saying, 'Sleep,' so we sit down on the starboard bunk next to each other. We're exhausted but not at all sleepy. One young guard sits, fidgeting nervously – barely three feet away, pointing his gun at us – and gestures that we should look down. It is sticky down below. The weather is calm, with no cooling wind. They have shut the door between the saloon and for'ard heads, so there's no through ventilation.

Buggas comes down to supervise, demanding, 'A/C?'

We don't know whether to laugh or cry. Laughing would lead to hysteria, so Paul shrugs and points to the one little twelve-volt fan we have in the saloon.

Buggas looks bemused and irritated. Can we hope he's beginning to accept how puny a prize we are?

He and 2IC are now standing at the navigation table, rifling through its contents. He calls over to us and points at the navigation computer.

'Computers? Search!'

I get out the personal and backup computers – all secondhand vintage laptops. There's no point in taking expensive gear into the environment of a small cruising yacht. Buggas's face is a picture of disparagement. He shakes his head.

Pointing at the navigation computer and the open chart, I say, 'I must navigate, keep log.'

'No,' growls Buggas, and pushes me away. But soon, 'OK, how far Somalia?'

I click on the range-and-bearing tool, zoom in on the coastline and pan along it. Buggas spots the town of Hobyo.

'Hobyo, how far? Mogadishu, how far?'

I show him – we are about 680 nautical miles (780 statute miles) from Hobyo.

'Many days, maybe ten days,' I say. 'In one day, diesel finish.'

'Have diesel,' he responds triumphantly.


Excerpted from Hostage by Paul Chandler, Rachel Chandler, Sarah Edworthy. Copyright © 2011 Paul and Rachel Chandler. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Paul Chandler is a Cambridge-educated civil engineer. Rachel Chandler is a former government economist. Sarah Edworthy is a journalist who has worked for the Daily Telegraph, Harpers & Queen, the London Daily News, and Times. She cowrote The Daily Telegraph Formula One Years, El Macca: Four Years at Real Madrid, and My Championship Year.

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