By DAVID JONES
Last updated at 8:39 AM on 29th November 2010
Moments after storming aboard Paul and Rachel Chandler’s yacht, the pirates’ leader began haranguing them with one question that was clearly of vital importance to him.
‘Nationality? Nationality?’ he shouted repeatedly in thickly-accented English, as the couple were taken below decks at gunpoint.
Amid the chaos of the assault, the British red ensign that had fluttered proudly from the Lynn Rival’s stern had been torn down, and they quickly realised that the gang chief, Bugas, was terrified that they might be French.
The Somali kidnappers of Paul and Rachel Chandler were initially desperate to confirm the couple were not French as the country takes a notoriously intolerant of pirates
They had no idea why he was so anxious about this; it only became clear to them much later.
Six months before their kidnap, when another band of Somali pirates hijacked a yacht from Brittany cruising in the same stretch of ocean, French commandos had staged a ruthless rescue operation.
In a ferocious gun battle, the captured skipper was tragically killed, but as the boat was retaken, two of the pirates were also shot dead and the rest were captured.
Sanctioned by the French Defence Minister, Herve Morin, it was a show of force designed to send out a message to the pirates — that one nation, at least, was no longer prepared to stand by and let them plunder the seas with impunity.
So when the Chandlers assured Bugas they were British, his relief was immediately obvious.
‘The pirates don’t mess with the French any more,’ says 60-year-old Paul. ‘Their forces are too gung-ho.
‘But I think they see the other Western navies who patrol the area as a bit of laughing stock.
‘They know that if they have just one hostage at gunpoint, then these navies — with all their might — are impotent.’
'Little more than an irritant spoiling their fun': The Chandlers revealed their Somali pirate kidnappers did not take the Wave Knight (above) seriously
Since we now know that the Chandlers were kidnapped under the compliant gaze of the Wave Knight, a Royal Navy supply ship armed with cannon and machine guns and carrying 25 Royal Marines, the pirates’ contempt is all too understandable.
But two crucial questions have lingered since the supply ship’s inglorious role in this nightmarish saga was first revealed.
Should the Admiralty have adopted the same tough stance as the French and ordered the Wave Knight to attack?
And if they had, would the Chandlers have been spared a 13-month ordeal which saw them flogged, mentally tortured and threatened with death?
Told today for the first time, the Kent couple’s gripping, first-hand account of their capture on October 23 last year finally provides the answers to these questions — questions which have cast a long shadow over the Royal Navy’s proud reputation.
In helping the Daily Mail piece together the minute-by-minute sequence of events that evening, Paul Chandler has also supplied us with his log and a diary containing transcripts of two tense conversations with the Wave Knight’s skipper.
As he thumbed through the documents — compiled with the meticulous precision one would expect from a Cambridge-educated civil engineer — all the drama of that night comes vividly into focus.
They record the Chandlers’ last contact with the outside world before being spirited away to the pirates’ lair and reveal how Paul was forced to beg the nearby British vessel to turn away.
Hostages: In November 2009 the Chandlers were made to talk on a video while being held at gunpoint
‘Our captors will kill us if you don’t stand off. We are terrified,’ he told the Wave Knight over the yacht’s radio as he struggled to maintain his composure.
Of course, as he was speaking AK-47s were being pointed at him and Rachel.
Today, after replaying those fraught final moments of freedom in his mind for 13 long months, he sees things very differently.
Today, after replaying those fraught final moments of freedom in his mind for 13 long months, he sees things very differently.
‘Our reasoning is: “We’d had a good life. We have enjoyed it. It’s no great loss to the world if we don’t survive any longer,”’ he says in measured tones as his wife nods sagely.
‘I thought, someone has got to deal with these bastards and not take it lying down.
‘If you kill ten baddies that’s fantastic — it’s ten less evil guys in the world.
‘It always worried me that people were too conservative and too safety conscious. I really think you have to try.
'I think it’s quite right to have a go if there’s a reasonable chance and I don’t think anybody should be criticised if a rescue attempt goes wrong.
‘Somebody has to face up to these gangsters. The more rescue attempts there are, the more they get nervous. They see it as “They’re standing up to us — they’re not just sitting there watching.”’
‘If they were under attack from the Navy, their response would have been to save their own lives.
‘Bugas was a bully but deep down he was also a coward and he would have dropped his gun and run away.’
Though they are soul-mates, the Chandlers are two fiercely independent thinkers, and Rachel’s views are not quite so clear-cut as her husband’s.
She says: ‘I think there would have been bloodbath. There’s very little you can do without facing the risk of loss of life — not just of hostages but the troops who go in, so you have to think very carefully before you do that.’
In one noble respect, however, the Chandlers are united.
Soul mates: The Chandlers following their 13-month ordeal being held captive by the Somali gang of pirates
Recalling how Scottish aid worker Linda Norgrove was killed when U.S. troops tried to free her from a Taliban hideout in Afghanistan, they believe strongly that there are circumstances when the sacrifice may be worthwhile.
And, looking you squarely in the eye, they say they were quite prepared to die to make the seas safer for others.
No one could be in a better position to make such a judgment than this devoted couple from Tunbridge Wells, Kent.
Their dream of an adventurous retirement, meandering from continent to continent in their lovingly restored 38ft yacht, bought from a friend for £30,000 in 1995, was shattered just hours after they left the Seychelles bound for Tanzania.
On the day they set sail, Wednesday, October 22, 2009 a taxi driver had told them grimly: ‘I will pray for you if you are going that way.’
Yet the Chandlers were undeterred. They had, they thought, taken every possible precaution and their intended route would take them no closer than 770 miles from the nearest point on the Somali coast.
At 2.30am on October 23, as Paul dozed in his quarters and his wife was on her four-hour watch duty, they got their answer.
Speeding across the waves in two flat-bottomed skiffs, seven armed pirates were upon them almost before they had time to think, followed by their fearsome leader Bugas and two more gang members.
Woken by gunfire, the usually unflappable Paul experienced a rare and brief moment of panic.
Then, drawing on his lifelong experience of sailing, he switched on the yacht’s distress beacon, knowing this was his one hope of getting help.
The device was programmed to send an SOS to Falmouth, 5,200 miles away, and this was ultimately relayed to the EU NAVFOR, the anti-piracy task-force given the thankless job of patrolling the vast equatorial waters around the Horn of Africa.
Now the search for the little British sailing yacht should have begun — and it should have been easy. The Chandlers had logged their course with the authorities before leaving and were still only 60 miles from the Seychelles.
And the Lynn Rival was limping along at barely two knots per hour, her engine labouring as she towed the pirates’ skiffs.
For some reason, however, it took four days before one of the EU force’s helicopters finally spotted the hijacked yacht and a rescue plan — of sorts — was activated.
Cruising in the vicinity to supply the patrol fleet, the 36,000-ton Wave Knight set a course to try to intercept Lynn Rival.
Meanwhile, rattled by the sight of the military helicopter hovering overhead and realising a warship would soon be on its way, Bugas had used the Chandlers’ satellite phone to call his accomplices.
These fellow pirates had taken over another boat, 14 days before the Chandlers were kidnapped — a Singapore-flagged container vessel, Kota Wajar.
Frustrated by the yacht’s painfully slow pace and knowing it could not outrun a patrol ship, Bugas planned to use the far more powerful cargo ship to transfer his hostages to the Somali coast.
So now, all three ships in this fast-unfolding episode were about to converge.
Paul’s meticulous diary records that they came together on the waves as dusk was falling on October 28.
On paper, at least, the slate-grey Wave Knight was a well-armed Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship which could easily outgun the two vessels under the pirates’ control from her final position, only 200 yards away from the Lynn Rival.
From experience, though, the gang seemed cock-sure that the British would not attack them, and Rachel says they regarded the Wave Knight as little more than an irritant ‘spoiling their fun’.
Determined to ensure the transfer went smoothly, however, Bugas levelled his semi-automatic weapon at Paul and ordered him to contact the British ship on the VHF radio.
He did so and seconds later he was conversing with an archetypal British naval officer, who ‘spoke like an air traffic controller talking to planes in the movies — totally calm and matter-of-fact.’
According to Paul’s records, the conversation which would seal the Chandlers’ fate ran as follows:
Lynn Rival: EU warship — this is sailing yacht Lynn Rival. We are two British, one male, one female. We have been kidnapped. We are both well and unharmed. Please turn away or we will be killed.
Wave Knight: Lynn Rival — understood. We are turning away now. We confirm one male, one female unharmed. Are you directly threatened?
LR: Correct. Not threatened at present.
At this point, Bugas seized the radio and ordered the couple to pack their bags ready to decamp to the Kota Wajar.
As they did so, the radio crackled to life again and they heard the British ship threaten the pirates aboard the captured cargo vessel.
WK: Kota Wajar. You are in my security area. Alter course to the north please.
[There was no reply to this warning, and indeed the Kota Wajar failed to respond to any of Wave Knight’s entreaties. This was because, the Chandlers later learned, the pirates on board were beating the container ship’s skipper — one of 21 crew members being held hostage — over the head with a water bottle].
WK: Kota Wajar, you are threatening my security. Alter course to the north. Please acknowledge.
Once again, Bugas forced Paul back on to the radio to tell the British ship to stop its threats.
LR: EU warship, this is sailing yacht Lynn Rival.
WK: Lynn Rival, I am under attack from a previously pirated ship. I will come back to you.
[From his position below deck, Paul could not see or hear gunfire, but the Ministry of Defence told the Daily Mail the pirates onboard the Kota Wajar opened fire on the Wave Knight with their machine guns.
Under the military Rules of Engagement, the British vessel could now have launched a deadly assault against them, but did not do so because of the 21 crew held hostage on the cargo ship.]
WK: Kota Wajar, you are threatening my security. Alter course towards north immediately or I may take action.
LR: We are very frightened. We have been told we will be killed if you do not stand off.
WK: Kota Wajar, you are threatening my security. Alter course towards north immediately or I may take action which may include the use of lethal force.
LR: Our captors say they will kill us if you don’t stand off. We are terrified!
At this point, apparently satisfied he had bought them enough time to evacuate, Bugas ordered Paul to turn off the radio and ram his beloved yacht into the stern of the Kota Wajar.
This was to get them close enough to climb the rope ladder that had been lowered by pirates on the high-sided container ship.
His ploy worked, and the Chandlers were transferred to Kota Wajar while the crew of the Wave Knight looked on.
It was, indeed, a fiasco. As a patriot and a seafarer, Paul is reluctant to criticise our Navy, but as he remarks — what was the point of the ship being there if it couldn’t help them?
As he was on deck, Paul was forced up the rope ladder first. His wife, who had been kept below in the cabin, was allowed out only once he was aboard the Kota Wajar.
Rachel fights back tears as she recalls how she left the yacht which had become their home, and embodied all their dreams, convinced she would never see the Lynn Rival again.
The Wave Knight did train its searchlight on the Lynn Rival, but took no action as the hostages were forced up the ladder and onto the cargo ship, where they disappeared into the ship’s hull.
The team of elite Marines — armed to the teeth and in full combat gear of black fatigues, balaclavas and nightvision goggles — could only watch, frustrated and incredulous, as the Kota Wajar slowly turned and steamed away towards Somalia.
A source would later say: ‘The mood among the Marines was one of intense anger and frustration. These guys were right up for it — absolutely champing at the bit. It was precisely the situation they had trained for.
‘We had all watched them practising rapid-roping [descending at speed on ropes from a helicopter] and sea-borne assaults. They knew exactly what to do. They were poised there like a bunch of Ninjas and the adrenaline was pumping.
‘They couldn’t believe the orders to stand down . . . We had a chance to strike a real blow at the pirates and send a message that you don’t mess with the British.’
That chance had evaporated and the next day, as they headed towards an uncertain future in Somalia, Paul reluctantly unpacked the log book he had smuggled off his yacht and wrote a final, sad entry.
‘October 29th, 0200 (Approx): Removed from Lynn Rival by kidnappers, transferred to MV Kota Wajar. Lynn Rival abandoned!’
Additional reporting: Vanessa Allen
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1333955/Chandlers-reveal-captured-Somali-pirates-British-patrols-gaze.html#ixzz1Ew8GFCPx