Thursday, November 25, 2010

Saved by a guardian angel in Somalia

Saved by a guardian angel in Somalia

Published on : 25 November 2010 - 3:31pm | By RNW Africa Desk (Photo: Abdurrahman WARSAMEH)

After more than one year in the hands of Somali pirates, the British citizens Paul and Rachel Chandler got released on November 14 and returned home. But this would not have happened if it was not for a doctor who took care of them while they were being held hostage in Somalia. RNW met up with him.

More arrests

Seven more pirates have been arrested by the Dutch naval forces, part of NATO operation Ocean Shield in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden.

Meanwhile, Dutch detectives are dispatched to the navy vessel Hr. Ms. Amsterdam. They are to interrogate a total of 20 pirates that the ship's marines arrested over the last couple of days, off the coast of Somalia. The alleged pirates are in Dutch custody, and under international law the suspects could be brought to a Dutch court.

But according to the Dutch public prosecutor's spokesperson Wim de Bruin it's too early to speculate on this. "First of all we want to solve the case regarding the South African Choizil, a ship that was hijacked three weeks ago. These guys can provide useful information."

The ship was freed, but two hostages remain in the pirates' hands. South Africa and the Netherlands are currently discussing on how to proceed with the arrested pirates.

By Abdurrahman WARSAMEH, Mogadishu

"When I first saw them they were in bad shape. They were separated, sick, traumatized and in the most inhumane situation," said Dr Mohamed Abdi Elmi aka Hangul, who treated the elderly British couple during their captivity by Somali pirates.

Tough times
Paul and Rachel Chandler, now enjoying the taste of freedom back home in the UK, have been through very tough times during their captivity, lasting more than a year, in a mountainous area in central Somalia.

The two were seized when Somali pirates boarded their yacht off the Seychelles on 23 October 2009. Most of the time, they were held incommunicado with the outside world.

Dr HangulDr Hangul
photo: Abdurrahman Warsameh
But Dr Hangul was one of the few people who had access to the Chandlers during their captivity. He said that he was allowed to carry out some medical checks on the Chandlers and give them some medications because the pirates wanted to keep the hostages alive to demand a hefty ransom.

"Early in the year when I first managed to visit them, they were held separate locations and that had its toll on their well-being," Dr Hangul told Radio Netherlands Worldwide (RNW).

"They lived in the most appalling conditions for a human being. Rachel was kept in a makeshift camp under the shade of a tree and without the basic essentials in hot temperatures." said Hangul.

Paul was kept somewhere inside Addado, a town in the central Somali region of Galgaduud. Since the pirates did not want him to know where Paul was being held, the two men met in an unknown location in the mountains.

Hangul was instrumental in the negotiations to free the retired couple.

He was joined by local elders to try in the first place to persuade the pirates to unify the Chandlers, a plea which they later accepted.

Meanwhile, frantic efforts both inside and outside Somalia were galvanized to collect donations to pay out the ransom. But the money raised fell far short of the sum required.

"We spoke to clan elders close to the pirates. We spoke to relatives, friends and family members of the pirates. Finally, we got in touch with them," Mohamed Dahir, a local elder in Addado who also took part in the negotiations told RNW.

Eventually, together with Dr Hangul's efforts, the local elders convinced the pirates to release the Chandlers in exchange for $470,000 US dollars. The sum was raised by Somalis in the Diaspora and inside the war-ravaged country.

But it seemed that it was the Somali government, also involved in the release of the couple, which received the most credit out of this. After their release, the Chandlers were asked to pass by Mogadishu, one of the most dangerous cities in the world, for a formal handshake with senior government officials and "a bit of photo-op."

Afterwards, the couple flew off to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, where they eventually left for the UK for a family reunion for the first time in a whole year.


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