Somali doctor: British yacht couple seized by pirates reunited after weeks of separation

By Mohamed Sheikh Nor, AP
Monday, March 8, 2010

Somali doctor: British yacht couple reunited

MOGADISHU, Somalia — A British yachting couple seized by Somali pirates and held in separate locations have been temporarily reunited after weeks apart, a doctor who treated the two said.

Paul and Rachel Chandler were suffering from severe anxiety brought on by their separation and captivity in war-ravaged Somalia, Dr. Abdi Mohamed Elmi Hangul told The Associated Press during an interview at Medina Hospital on Sunday. The two were seized from their yacht, the Lynn Rival, in October and have been held apart for most of their captivity. Hangul said the pirates had phoned him on Sunday and said the couple had been temporarily reunited.

“The two hostages were in different locations but I advised the guys to reunite the couple, because both of them were worrying about their separation but they now told me that the two people have reunited already,” he said.

Hangul treated the two hostages last month at the invitation of their kidnappers, in the camps where they were being held along the Somali coastline.

“The hostages are suffering from diseases … Paul was suffering just pain and coughs and (Rachel) Chandler was suffering from mental disorders, especially restlessness, palpitations and she was very anxious, because she was worrying about the separation between her and her husband,” he said.

“A new case of eye infection emerged later, (the pirates) informed me by telephone that Paul was taking eye drops, Paul told me that he finished the eye drops,” he said. He has not seen the Chandlers since.

A Somali politician last week expressed hope that pressure from Somalis in the diaspora could lead to the two being freed without a ransom being paid. But pirates have rarely, if ever, freed a vessel and crew without a payment. The Chandlers’ captors have repeatedly said they will not free the two without a ransom — money the family says it does not have. The British government says it does not pay ransoms to kidnappers.

“I advised the pirates, you have to release these people, they are old, they don’t have anything,” said Hangul. “I always say that to them but unfortunately they still insist the only option is ransom money.”

In talks in London on Monday, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown urged Somali President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed to press for the couple’s release.

Brown “welcomed an assurance from the president that his government was doing everything within its power to ensure their safe and swift release,” the British leader’s office said in a statement.

“He made clear that the Chandlers should be urgently reunited with their family. They agreed to continue to work closely together to secure this outcome,” the statement read.

Brown pledged to cooperate closely with Ahmed’s transitional government to “create a stable and piracy-free Horn of Africa,” according to the statement.

Ahmed met Brown and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband during a visit to London.

The Chandlers are highest-profile of more than 130 sailors held captive on the Somali coast. The couple’s plight has garnered more attention than that of hostages from developing countries like India and the Philippines, who make up the bulk of the captives. Furthermore, ship owners can leave them to languish for months before engaging in serious negotiations and families are often not kept informed of progress.

Experts say the pirate problem is a symptom of Somalia’s lawlessness on land. It has not had a functioning government for a generation and the current administration is too focused on fighting an Islamist insurgency to go after the well-armed and well-paid pirates.

The multimillion dollar ransoms are one of the few ways to make money in the impoverished country. Attacks about doubled between 2008-2009 and are becoming increasingly violent.

Associated Press writer David Stringer in London contributed to this report.

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