Pirate hostage couple reveal suicide torment

THE British couple held hostage by Somali pirates for more than a year have revealed how they were severely beaten and contemplated suicide during their ordeal.

Paul and Rachel Chandler, who were freed earlier this month following a ransom deal, described how they were kept apart in solitary confinement on meagre rations, and recalled the moment they held each other as they thought they were about to be executed.

In a moving newspaper interview about their 388 days in captivity, the Chandlers painted a picture of physical and psychological torment, but also of a 29-year marriage that was able to withstand the gravest of tests.

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The couple, from Kent, were taken into captivity last October during a round-the-world sailing trip, when their 38ft yacht, the Lynn Rival, was stormed by an armed gang.

In the wake of their kidnap, Rachel Chandler said yesterday that her guards, who brandished Kalashnikov rifles and knives, teased her that her husband had either been killed, or had left her, leading her to contemplate taking her own life.

Her husband, meanwhile, expressed his feelings of "shame" and "inadequacy" as he watched the pirates beat his wife.

Together, however, they confronted their captors with a simple message that they would rather face death together than apart. Recalling her time in solitary confinement, Rachel said yesterday that those holding her would say: "Where's Paul? Paul no here. Paul gone."

"I did think: 'The only option I have is suicide'," the 56-year-old admitted. "I thought about dying and about not fearing death because that gave me the strength to face it. I went down there, but then I pulled myself back up.

"My way of getting out of it was to look at the demons and the possibility of death ... I was always thinking, 'What can they do to us next?'"

But she added: "When I thought of Paul and my family, I knew I could never kill myself. I could never do that to them. I had to stay strong. But I knew it would be easy to slit my wrists. I had a razor blade."

She also told of unsettling encounters with one of the gang who told her that he wanted to marry her and "share your bed".

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"He pestered me. He was fascinated by my skin because I'm so white," she said. "He would touch my arms and say 'cream'. He wanted to rub himself with body lotion to make himself white."

Paul, a retired civil engineer, told of a flashpoint on 5 January this year when he defied the pirate leader, a man known as Bugas, before being whipped with part of a tree.

"No-one had ever dared to defy Bugas, especially not in front of his men, and for a few minutes there was an air of disbelief," he said.

"Then he got his AK-47 rifle and came back and I just said: 'You might as well kill us'."At that point I really felt that we'd had a good life and that, though it would be very sad for our family, would be better to die there than to be separated again.

"We are only half a person when we are apart. We are just made for each other."

The Chandlers, however, were made to pay for their defiance. Bugas whipped them viciously with the root of a tree as his men dragged the couple apart.

Rachel was then struck in the face with a rifle butt with such force that one of her teeth was knocked out.

"At first I was just angry, but the next day I felt shame," added her husband. "I had a serious feeling of inadequacy. I knew it was stupid as there was nothing I could do about it, but I did have some grief. I found that really painful."

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The pair were then kept in different locations before being reunited after three months.

The Chandlers, who are expected to make criticisms of the Royal Navy in the coming days for its failure to stage a rescue operation, also told how their Somali captors seized their mobile phones and ordered them to speak to friends and family so as to raise the money demanded in ransom.

In a diary he kept, Paul wrote about a telephone conversation he had with his wife's brother about raising the money.

The entry stated: "Stephen (his brother-in-law] said they could not touch our funds as solicitors said we were under duress. I told him to find another ******* solicitor."

The couple, who insisted they were not "reckless" for sailing near Somalia, were eventually released on 14 November after the kidnappers received a ransom payment.