An Adventure On The High Seas Stormed By Pirates

British retirees Rachel and Paul Chandler were sailing in the Indian Ocean in 2009 when their boat was hijacked by Somali pirates. They were held captive in Somalia for more than a year. Guest host Viviana Hurtado speaks to the couple about their experience, which they documented in the memoir Hostage: A Year at Gunpoint with Somali Pirates.

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VIVIANA HURTADO, HOST:

And now I'd like to change direction. Let's head to the paradise islands of the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean. That's where a British couple had set sail when they were captured by Somali pirates. In 2009, Rachel and Paul Chandler were enjoying their voyage until a gang of armed men stormed the boat. The Chandlers spent more than a year in captivity because their captors wanted millions in ransom, money their family back in England didn't have.

Rachel and Paul Chandler have documented their ordeal in the book, "Hostage: A Year at Gunpoint with Somali Pirates," and they join me now.

Welcome to the show.

RACHEL CHANDLER: Thank you.

PAUL CHANDLER: Hello, Viviana.

CHANDLER: Hello.

CHANDLER: Hi.

HURTADO: Hello. And, Rachel, describe for us what happened at the moment you were hijacked.

CHANDLER: I was sitting on deck, and it was nighttime, about 2:30 in the morning, and it was quiet. There were no ships around. And, all of a sudden, I heard the noise of an engine and I thought it must be a passing fisherman, so I looked out and I saw this suspicious boat approaching. I grabbed a spotlight and shone it at them, and they responded with a gunshot. So I was immediately very frightened. And very soon, they were upon us and boarding our yacht and pointing guns at me, telling me to stop the engine and to switch on lights. And I was actually petrified, of course.

Paul was down below sleeping at the time, because we do watches. And he was on his off-watch, so he then came up on deck and the men were all surrounding us. There were eight of them at first.

HURTADO: Just jumping in there, Paul, as Rachel just said, you were asleep when the pirates came onboard. So did you wake up when you started to hear a commotion?

CHANDLER: Certainly, the cracks of two gunshots brought me wide awake instantly, and I knew there was something very horrible going on.

HURTADO: What do you remember about the men who kidnapped you?

CHANDLER: Well, we had them onboard for five or six days, so we got to observe them quite closely. Some were perhaps in their 30s, and some were late teens and early 20s. Some seemed more experienced and more knowledgeable about what they were doing, and others were just youngsters who thought that by having a gun and going out to sea, they could make themselves some money.

HURTADO: You were taken off your boat and eventually brought to land, and that's where you spent most of the time in captivity. Rachel, what was the hardest thing to deal with during those months?

CHANDLER: Well, the hardest thing was when they decided to separate us in order to put more pressure on Paul to beg for money. And they kept us apart for three months, and I found that really, really hard to deal with. There I was, in the middle of a lawless country, far away from, you know, any hope of rescue. And I had to struggle to keep my emotions calm, to - not to feel angry and frustrated with what they were doing to us. And I really did struggle at times with the loneliness, as well. But I did learn eventually to just get control of my emotion and just accept that there was nothing that I could do, and that I must just be a good hostage.

HURTADO: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. I'm Viviana Hurtado. We're talking about the memoir, "Hostage: A Year at Gunpoint with Somali Pirates." Our guests are authors Paul and Rachel Chandler, who survived a kidnapping at sea.

Paul, a New York Times article about your kidnapping - you were quoted in this article as saying everyone was in on it. Can you explain what you mean by that?

CHANDLER: Yes. I meant the local community in the area where we were held for the long period. Many of the pirates had homes there, and it was obvious from the limited interaction we had with visitors to the camp or when we were round about the town that they had the full support of all the local community. There was no sense of disquiet or unease at what they were doing, and that was initially quite a shock to me.

HURTADO: Rachel, your hopes of release were raised when your family air-dropped $440,000 in June of 2010, but you weren't freed until November. So how did it finally happen?

CHANDLER: Well, when it finally happened, it was a great surprise to us because we'd not heard from anyone, from our family or anyone for some months. And, all of a sudden, the gang leader told us that we would be leaving. And we found it very hard to believe. And, in the morning - because this was - we'd set off in the afternoon. We drove all the way through the night. And in the morning, we were approached by a man who introduced himself as a British Somali, a man called Dahir, and he told us he was going to take us away and to freedom. That's a moment that I shall never forget.

CHANDLER: He said - he was waving a British passport as he approached at the crack of dawn, and he said, I'm Dahir. I'm from Leytonstone. I've come to take you home.

HURTADO: Oh, my goodness.

CHANDLER: Leytonstone is in East London.

HURTADO: Why did he do that?

CHANDLER: He has since told us that it was because he himself was a refugee from Somalia in the late '90s, and he was welcomed in Britain, and he and his family had made their home in Britain. And when they heard about our plight - in particular, his younger son, Yusuf, begged his father to try and do something to help us. And so he actually spent many, many months in the background trying to find out what the situation was, because he originally came from the area where we were being held. And so he knew many of the families of the pirate gang who took us.

And so he was able to softly, softly, behind the scenes, negotiate our release. And he did it because he said, you know, it's payback time. The British people have been good to me and, you know, I must help these British people.

HURTADO: I understand that you're setting sail soon. Where are you going?

CHANDLER: Yes. Tentatively, we're heading south and across the Atlantic towards Brazil. We've just launched Lynn Rival, having spent 18 months working very hard on putting her back together. And we're going to go back to warm water, live-aboard cruising. And we don't plan to visit the east coast of Africa for some years, until maybe in a decade or so. The situation will be safe there.

HURTADO: Paul and Rachel Chandler's book, "Hostage: A Year at Gunpoint with Somali Pirates," will be released in America next week. The Chandlers joined me from the BBC studios in Plymouth, England, before they set sail again. Thanks for speaking with us, and bon voyage.

CHANDLER: Thank you.

CHANDLER: Thank you, Viviana. It's a pleasure.

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