Pirates' hostages 'happy to be alive' and free

The British couple held hostage by pirates in Somalia for more than a year walked to freedom today saying they were happy to be alive.

Paul and Rachel Chandler were seen smiling, waving and holding hands as their 388-day ordeal came to an end.

The couple, from Tunbridge Wells in Kent, were handed over to local officials in the Somali town of Adado after a ransom was reportedly paid to their kidnappers. They were then flown to the capital Mogadishu and on to Nairobi, in Kenya.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Beginning the long-awaited journey home, they spoke of their relief.

"We're fine. We are rather skinny and bony but we're fine," Mr Chandler, 60, said.

"We were told on Friday (of our release) and in a way which gave us some confidence to believe it. We'd been told we were going to be released in 10 days almost every 10 days for nine months.

"

Mrs Chandler simply said: "Happy to be alive" while her husband said: "I love my wife, I love my life, and insallah, I will be free."

Their freedom was welcomed by Prime Minister David Cameron as "tremendous news" while family members in the UK said the pair were "in good spirits although very tired and exhausted".

But questions remained over how their release was secured.

The couple began their journey home by road at 6am yesterday (3am in Britain).

TV footage showed them walking unaided in Adado where they were met by the mayor, Mohamed Aden, and given breakfast and cold showers.

"Then we showed them to the community, and the community showed them they are sorry about what happened," Mr Aden said.

Next, they were flown to Mogadishu to meet the Prime Minister of the Transitional Federal Government, Mohamed Abdullah Farmajo, before a connecting flight took them across the Kenyan border to safety.

In a statement, the family said: "Throughout the protracted discussions with the pirates it has been a difficult task for the family to get across the message that these were two retired people on a sailing trip on a small private yacht and not part of a major commercial enterprise involving tens of millions of pounds of assets.

"

But they refused to comment on how the couple's freedom was secured saying only that common sense had "finally prevailed".

"There will be the inevitable questions of how their release was achieved," they said.

Reports suggested a ransom of up to $1m (620,000) was paid, with the money said to have come from a mixture of private investors and the Somali government.

The British Government maintains a policy of making no concessions to hostage takers.

"The family believes it would be irresponsible to discuss any aspect of the release process as this could encourage others to capture private individuals and demand large ransom payments, something that we are sure none of us wants," they said.

But relatives thanked those in the Somali community who "did so much to help secure their release.

"

Prime Minister David Cameron said: "I unreservedly condemn the actions of those that held the Chandlers for so long. Kidnapping is never justified. I am grateful to all those who have worked so hard to bring the Chandlers safely out.

"

The couple had been sailing around the world on their 38ft yacht, the Lynn Rival, when they entered notoriously dangerous waters and it was stormed by armed men.

It later emerged that the crew of a Royal Navy vessel was forced to watch as they were kidnapped but military officials insisted the crew could not have acted without endangering their lives.

A news blackout was later imposed which prohibited reporting on the couple's well-being or any speculation surrounding their release for fear of compromising their safety.

LAND OF DEATH AND ANARCHY

After years of lawlessness and violence, Somalia has become a place most foreigners choose to avoid.

The country descended into turmoil, factional fighting and anarchy following the collapse of President Siad Barre's socialist regime in 1991.

Warlords now run swathes of the territory which has been beset by famine and without a government for nearly 20 years.

Somalia was created in 1960, after a former British protectorate merged with an Italian colony. One of the world's poorest countries, up to a third of its population now depends on food aid.

Meanwhile, up to a million people are thought to have died during years of long-running battles between rival clans.