The Chandlers Are Free – So Where Does This Leave Us?

What fantastic news that the Chandlers have been freed after 388 days of captivity by pirates in Somalia. Our thoughts go out to their family and friends. The last year must have been very difficult so now it is time to celebrate their freedom and give them time to recuperate from what must have been a harrowing ordeal. But what now? Where does this leave the rest of us?

For those of you who don’t know, the Chandlers are retired couple Paul and Rachel of sailing vessel ‘Lyn Rival’. Two years ago they undertook the same Vasco Da Gama rally that we did this year, and made a successful landfall in India. However they then did something very strange: they headed east, stopping off at the Seychelles and then on towards Tanzania, effectively sailing straight into the hands of pirates.



Screen grab of Lyn Rival's Mailasail blog, showing her track through the Indian Ocean to the Seychelles. The last update is dated Fri 23 Oct 06:41 and in capital letters just says "PLEASE RING SARAH"



Their captors demanded a ransom of £4m. There were many campaigns to free them. Family and friends put together pressure groups and lobbied Westminster for their immediate release. The government at the time, however, stuck by its policy of not bowing to hijackers. The Chandlers frequently made the news and the pirates released video clips, their captors making no effort to cover up the fact that the retired couple’s health was ailing. Learning that they were split up and that they suffered physical abuse was heart-breaking. The months passed and everyone became more concerned as it was clear the pirates were not going to back down.


Funds were raised and a private company was employed to broker the payment of the money but in a  scenario like this the government has veto on whether the ransom should be paid. Gordon Brown stood firm, so with the government making its stance quite clear on the situation private efforts to raise money by friends and family of the Chandlers continued unabated. Meanwhile we watched in vain as the couple appeared in the news, looking more and more distraught, broken and ill. [Right: Rachel Chandler at gun-point. Source: Enterprise News And Pictures]

And then nothing. After headline news and fervent online activity there was a complete media blackout that started around about the same time the new government came to power. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not, but when there is media blackout on international stories like this it sometimes suggests that negotiations are taking place. And with negotiations come precedents, new precedents that pave the way for a new future of piracy activity in the Indian Ocean. Activity that could have a grave impact for other seafarers.

At the time of the attack there was a hive of activity in the India Ocean. Back then the international naval task-forces were not working as a cohesive effort and coverage of the vast ocean was sporadic. Efforts were concentrated in the Gulf of Aden and this was an opportunity the pirates were taking advantage of in other areas of these waters. Look in Wikipedia for a breakdown of the number of combined naval task forces involved in anti-piracy activities. Then divide that into the square mileage of Indian Ocean. Divide again the average daily number of piracy attacks and put that as a ratio of the millions of pounds paid annually in piracy ransoms and you begin to understand the vastness of this problem.

The data of these attacks are published daily. At the time of the ‘Lyn Rival’ incident Liz and I were making our own preparations for our Red Sea sojourn. We armed ourselves with every piece of data on the piracy situation: we subscribed to quasi-governmental websites that posted news of attacks within hours of them happening; we made contact with the British navy and European peace-keeping initiatives; we registered our whereabouts frequently; we spent considerable sums of money on boat electronics that allowed the Navy to track our location. Even after joining 15 other boats in the relative safety of the Vasco Da Gama rally we continued to maintain contact with these forces.



Taken from this chart shows all piracy attacks in 2009, both actual (red) and attempted (yellow). This snap-shot focuses on the area around the Seychelles.




Liz and I were frequently lambasted in chat forums for our plans. Friends and family expressed real concern at our proposed route, whilst armchair sailors shook their fists and made jokes about passing on their regards to the Chandlers should we get caught. In our own minds, however, we had taken every precaution and assessed the entire scenario. There wasn’t a hint of arrogance in our plans, we were very careful and did what all sensible sailors should do: we armed ourselves with every available piece of information. Our tactic was simple: at the slightest hint of piracy we would stay put. We would not move until, excuse the pun, the coast was clear.

Back in October 2009 all of this piracy data we were collating was available to any sailor who looked for it, and one thing was very clear: the most dangerous area to be sailing was anywhere east of the Seychelles.

At the time of writing the Chandlers have been freed and are probably now in Nairobi, but they have not yet made a public statement. We know nothing about their decision to head towards Tanzania from the Seychelles, and for me this remains the biggest question.

Having just watched an ITV special on today’s news I was disappointed to see that the editor firmly put the blame of the couple’s ordeal onto the British navy. They quoted the special task force who was employed to undertake a rescue operation, claiming that the Navy procrastinated in its response to the attack. Quoting friends and members of the Cruising Association the documentary was quick to point out that these unfortunate cruisers had taken all precautions and were ‘experienced’, as if that shifted all responsibility from the cruisers on to someone else.

It would take another essay entirely to explain the logistics of undertaking a specialist forces rescue operation in an ocean that covers 14% of the earth’s surface. Whilst the TV report alluded to the failed attempt by the French navy to rescue the crew of sailing boat ‘Tanit’ it did not explain that the botched attempt by the French forces killed the skipper in front of his 3 year old child. It did not mention that the Navy ship that was a few hundred metres away from the Chandler’s attack was an unarmed auxilary vessel. Neither did the report make any effort to explain the complicated political and economic situation in Somalia, not that this would have justified the actions of the pirates of course. The ITV special, in my hunble opinion, was flawed, misinformed and sensationalist and will no doubt leave many viewers in no mind that the real culprits were the Royal Navy. What nonsense.



The Chandlers earlier today preparing to leave for Mogadishu. Source AP Photo



My understanding is that a ransom has been paid, somewhere in the region of £500,000 (the foreign office, sticking to its policy of not negotiating with hijackers, has denied direct involvement). It rankled slightly when our man from the CA made the argument that many cruisers don’t have much money. Yes, on the one hand he’s right, most of our cruising friends fall into that category, but to a Somali fisherman turned pirate whose warmongering clan has just secured a solid business deal of up to a million dollars, the facts are obvious: a British sailor is now worth a lot of money.

Maybe, then, we have inadvertently set a precedent. It is possible that by paying this ransom we have massively increased the risk to future cruisers. Perhaps we have become a bigger target now that pirates know they can capture us and broker a half million pound deal for our release.

Alternatively the ordeal and expense of keeping Paul and Rachel Chandler may have proved to be so frustrating that the pirates decide it’s not worth the effort. The cost of logistics, food, transportation and communication, not to mention the bribes to the warlords, all have to be accountable, even in the war-torn mess that is Somalia.



Make no mistake that piracy is big business, affecting the global economy on a daily basis.



The impact of this unprecedented case will only come to light as new sailors venture through the Gulf of Aden and into the Indian Ocean over the next few years.

Still, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that these poor people, who were subjected to the most cruel 13 months of captivity, have been released. Perhaps the questions should come later. For the time being let’s just be grateful that the Chandlers have been released. This is a great day for sailors around the world.

There are hundreds of links pertaining to the Chandlers and to piracy in general. Check out the more informed news websites like The Guardian, in particular the BBC which has a lot of video footage of journalists venturing into Somalia and interviewing pirates, as well as Naval footage of pursuits of suspected pirates. The ‘How to Counter A Pirate Attack‘ video is a bit of a joke though. Also the recent United Nations report on the general state of Somalia within the context of piracy makes for extremely interesting reading, even if you only peruse the summary.

Check out the many lobby sites like Save The Chandlers and of course some Facebook presence. For some bedtime reading try the IMB Annual Report.



Liz has taken four screen grabs comparing the piracy attacks over the past four years, taken from the website. Red: actual attacks; yellow = attempted; purple = suspicious vessel. It makes for worrying viewing.













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19 Comments on “The Chandlers Are Free – So Where Does This Leave Us?”

  1. Of course, it goes without saying that everyone is pleased the Chandlers are free but I found it very difficult to sleep last night, worrying about the implications of a ransom having been paid.

    So, what next? Will the Somali pirates start picking off yachts transiting the Gulf of Aden? I doubt it. Look very carefully at the evidence available to us through various sources: noonsite,, and It is clear that no yachts have been taken in the GOA for two years. In 2008 two French yachts were hijacked and freed by the French military and one German yacht was hijacked, for which a ransom was paid.

    No yachts have been pirated in the Gulf of Aden since 2008, but in 2009 four yachts were captured between the African coast and the Seychelles, the last of which was Lynn Rival. Pirate activity has accelerated outside the heavily patrolled GOA and Somali coastline, pushing hijacks out into the Indian Ocean and closer to the Indian coast.

    Look very carefully at the distribution of pirate activity on the ICC Commercial Crime Services maps for 2009 and 2010. There is a clear decline in the number of attacks in the GOA. Chillingly there is a determined march across the Arabian Sea towards the Indian Coast. This does not make for happy viewing.

    Open a separate browser for each of the following and line them up side by side on your screen. Compare the patterns:

    If you really need to be convinced that piracy in these waters is on the increase and moving inexorably eastwards, where we are unprotected and vulnerable, compare 2007’s map with 2008. Here are the links:;Itemid=89

  2. We are also happy that Paul and Rachel have been released, but paying a ransom means that “piracy pays” and that is obviously wrong.

    P.S. Great article Jamie.

  3. Thanks Jamie for a balanced, informed view… I was watching Sky News when it announced they’d been freed and wsa amazed to hear the reporter lay most of the blame at the door of the British Navy. I was also amazed to work out form the BBC’s more measured reports this morning that the other news agencies started reporting the release before the Chandlers were actually out of Somalia. How dumb can people be?

    With the report of a piracy incident close to India in recent days to I agree with yours and Liz’s analysis.

    With friends in the area and as someone who one day hopes to sail to the East Africa Coast all be it much further south to visit family and places connected to my past, I truely hope that those who pay ransomes to the pirates realise soon what they are inciting. I know that their victims are someones’ loved ones (and there are apparently around 600 seamen still in Somalia) but paying up is not the answer to this complex conundrum. Perhaps the countries West and East (including my current home Bahrain) who depend on these trade routes will finally take charge of the Somalian situation as the West did in the former Yugoslavian states, Iraq & Afghanistan. Until then anyone who attempts to put to sea in the Indian Ocean is at risk. we depend on these brave people for much of our supplies here in the Middle East whilst India and the East African countries depend on the trade routes for their income.

  4. I know I would pay for for my family to be released from pirates.

    Easy for someone who doesn’t sail to say but – if there is a risk of getting kidnapped in certain waters why would you go there?
    I’m sure there are arguments that I’m not familiar with to counter the question but I do know that where I live there is a great short cut through an estate to get home from work but I run the risk of getting mugged if I take it. I choose to go a different way.

    These pirates hold individuals at ransom yet there are plenty of countries that hold entire nations at ransom with the threat of war, aid or commerce. I’m guessing these pirates are pretty desperate people, living in a very unstable country. With big money (comparatively) to be made I can see the reasons why it becomes an option for some people.

    Like I say easy for me to comment from relative security of central London where I get to buy expensive coffees at lunch but you get my drift.

  5. I personally feel that the Chandlers should have had more sense than to travel alone in that territory. What research did they do before setting off? When we travel, we thoroughly read both The Lonely Planet and The Rough Guide. When they state – this area best avoided – then we listen and act. We also take note of what the locals say. This couple were so taken up with the need to sail round the world alone, that they put both themselves, their family and the government in a sorry position.

  6. Let me join the chorus of people celebrating the long overdue release of the Chandlers, this is excellent news.

    However as someone who works in Somalia I cannot underline enough the grave implications of a ransom having been paid.

    There is no doubt that the risks for sailors is now greater than ever before. Why should it be any different?

    The pirates are not motivated by ideology, it is cash they are after, whether that comes from the family and friends of hostages or from a Government, the message is clear…kidnapping pays off, espcially in a country where there is next to zero opportunities for young people seeking to support themsleves and their families.

    1. Aleem, I am very glad you have commented. If there is anyone who can give a view of the real consequences it is our man at the UN in Somalia. Thanks for the reply, it adds gravitas to one side of this complicated argument. Great to hear from you, Aleem, and look after yourself.

  7. There is a lot of focus on these 2 people and their yacht. But the real issue is that a major shipping route is under at tack by pirates and shippiing owners are paying out millions of dollars in ransoms making it a profitable business. Piracy is not new but our apparent tolerance of it is.

    1. Couldn’t agree more, Tony, I just hope that somewhere there’s a man with a plan… Aleem? The innocent and good people of Somalia — and there are many — need help to pull their country together and stop the piracy.

      If it is anything like its close neighbour, Eritrea, I bet Somalia is utterly spectacular and that the people are warm and friendly.

  8. Hi Jamie. Good article. The fact that a ransom has been paid could be a good thing for small boats. Like it or not this put a cash value on your life where as before, due to the fact that the pirates are opportunists, any boat they come across is fair game to be ransacked with the occupants at their mercy. Now there is a possibilty that all crew will be held for ransom as oppossed to being dumped overboard. Like you say tho, is it worth their while getting £500k compared to £9.5mill for a tanker ??

    1. Nice to hear from you Guy. I guess with all your diving this is an issue that is closer to your heart than many. The sad fact is that these pirates, when stuck out at sea for weeks on end, running low on fuel and water, will board any boat that assists in their survival. It is not common for pirates to throw people over-board but it has been known for them to kill fishermen for their boats, especially around Yemen and Oman. £500k might not be much compared to £9.5m, but it’s still a lot of money. You can see why smalls boats are still an attractive business proposal.

  9. I agree that giving in may be setting a dangerous precedent, but if you were (god forbid) to get taken what do you want us to do?

    1. That’s a very good question, Kat, and one that I have discussed with Liz and my family. In principal I have asked that a ransom should not be paid. However the sight of me trembling and terrified with a gun pointing to my head might make both me and my family think differently. Of course they would want to get the ransom money together for our immediate release, that’s only natural, but these are the risks we take. I would feel rather foolish having put myself in that danger, being captured and then asking people to bail me out. Like I said, however, I am sure it is a very different story when one is actually in that situation.

    2. Yes, it is a good question. Firstly, neither of us is a hero, so we would not go willingly into an area where we knew there were pirates looking for yachts, unless we felt reasonably confident.

      Secondly, we calculated the risk of going through the GOA and decided it was worth taking. This was based on the following evidence:
      – There have been no yachts taken there for two years and in the last five years only 3 taken in that area, all in 2008.
      – We were travelling in convoy with an experienced leader and a well thought out strategy.
      – We were in constant communication with the naval task force, which was never far away, indeed our route kept us always within 15 minutes of a helicopter.

      One of the points on which all of the boats we sailed with agreed was that if the Chandlers were released we would turn round and go back.

      When we crossed the Arabian Sea six months ago there were no reported attacks east of 60 degrees east. This has now changed.

      We are watching the current attack maps unfold regularly and as we don’t intend to leave India until next October will refrain from making any decisions about where we head until nearer the time. We would like to see the Maldives, but if this is looking dangerous we will head straight to Malaysia.

      Esper is in direct communication with the task force and we will discuss our plans in detail with the navy before we leave.

      I hope that goes some way to alleviating any fear our friends and families may have.

  10. At the end of the day i know that you are playing into the pirates hands by paying the ransom …… but i’d pay a ransom to free a family member. Don’t get caught though Jamie and Liz cause it will take me a while to save up or even better come back to the UK then we wouldn’t have to consider these options! Love ya and miss ya. xxxx

  11. Jamie & Liz…Hi…
    Good to hear you are both well,
    A good well thought out article.It is very difficult to be critical of either side when most of us are giving advice from our armchairs,so to speak.any measures which support piracy are wrong,but all the victims want is to be released ,which is also understandable.All cruising sailors have to consider all options before proceeding .
    All the Best.
    Martin & Brigitte.
    Mercury II

  12. In what sense was the RFA ship that was a few hundred metres away from the Chandler’s attack “an unarmed auxilary vessel?” ‘Footsoldier’, commenting in the YBW Forums, describes it as; “a sodding great naval vessel carrying 1 x Merlin helicopter, 26 Marines, 2 x 30mm cannon, 4 x 7.62 machine guns, a collection of fast ribs and launches and an armoury full of small arms and ammunition.”

    1. If this is the case then I have got that fact wrong and I apologise. However I asked this question to the communications officer on board HMS Chatham when we met them in Oman and this is what I was told.

      Even if it were armed, what could it have done, exactly? Could the Navy have undertaken a rescue plan without endangering either of the Chandlers? The fact is once those pirates are on board there is little hope of immediate rescue, especially on a small sailing boat in the middle of the ocean. Look at what happened when the French attempted a similar plan.

      Maybe if the Chandlers had contacted the Navy before hand to talk about escape tactics they may have stood a better chance of immediate rescue.

  13. Much impressed by your ability to look at a situation from at least three different angles. Keep up the good work and thanks for sharing.

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