Captured Couple Risk Pirates a Second Time

PHOTO: Paul and Rachel Chandler are heading back to sea.Rex/AP Photo
Paul and Rachel Chandler are heading back to sea.

If the year-long adventure of Paul and Rachel Chandler had to be described in a brochure, it would read something like this:

Accomodations: Haphazard, with periods of solitary confinement.
Meals: Infrequent and unappetizing.
Staff: Heavily-armed teenagers, most on drugs.
Activities: None, except for random beatings.
Cost: Every penny you have, plus as much as you can borrow from your family and friends.

Barely a year after escaping from that horrific ordeal and still in debt to family and friends for the ransom that freed them, Paul and Rachel are heading to sea again, alone, in their repaired 38-foot yacht. The British couple say they are determined to finish the round-the-world voyage that was interrupted by Somali pirates.

They insist they are not crazy.

"We had bad luck," Paul Chandler told BBC Radio this week. "We were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the chances of it happening again are incredibly small."

In fact, the chances were pretty small last time too. Somali pirates generally go after bigger prizes. The average ransom collected for a large merchant ship was just under $5 million last year, the money typically paid by the ship's owner or his insurance company.

But those big prizes are getting harder to catch. Military vessels are far more common and far more vigilant in the waters off Somalia these days. So the pirates in their tiny skiffs are forced to head farther out to sea, and to settle for smaller fish.

The Chandler's nightmare began in the middle of the night in October 2009 as they sailed from the Seychelles to Tanzania; far enough from the Somali coast, they thought, that they'd be safe.

Armed men in skiffs appeared out of the darkness, boarded the boat and brought the Chandlers to Somalia… to wait for their ransom.

Business as usual for the pirates up to that point. But the Chandler's weren't rich. Paul is a retired engineer, Rachel an economist. They had sold their house to buy the boat, which had been abandoned in the Indian Ocean. There was no insurance company to pay, and the British government refused on principle to negotiate with hostage-takers.

In a video released by their captors, Paul Chandler pleads, "I don't know what to do. Will somebody please help? The government or anybody else who can help."

In another video, a thin Rachel Chandler says, "Please, please help us. These people are not treating us well."

People did help them, both friends and strangers.

After 388 days, the pirates finally accepted they would never get the $7 million ransom they were demanding, and settled for around one-tenth that amount, some $700,000 raised by family and friends, and even by Somalis living abroad who were ashamed at what their countrymen were doing.

Those friends and strangers may be less willing to help if the Chandlers are captured again.

The couple plan to stay out of the Indian Ocean this time, sailing instead down the western coast of Africa to the Cape Verde Islands, then turning east across the Atlantic for Brazil.

"Piracy does occur more or less all over the world," Paul told BBC Radio. "We are aware of the fact we have to be a bit careful heading south past Africa, that we turn right before we get too far south."

He admits his family wouldn't "be very positive if we were to be captured again."

"Some of our friends don't understand our passion for sailing, for cruising, for traveling," his wife adds. But she says most support their decision.

Paul insists, "If we weren't to go back to doing that we'd have a huge hole in our lives. We would have been defeated."