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In October of 2009, Paul and Rachel Chandler were kidnapped by pirates as they sailed around the world. They were not the first or the last yachters to be victimized by Somali pirates, but their story did get world attention. A retired couple, pursuing a dream, suddenly plunged into the horror of forced incarceration, abuse and withering financial demands. Although they get their full say in their book, the British couple had the chance to finally speak in front of their government at a public hearing. Instead of thanks and praise, the UK government found themselves held up as a paragon of incompetence in dealing with both the Chandlers' kidnap and the kidnappers' abuse of their family and friends.
The Chandlers' testimony directly contradicts UK government statements made during their kidnap. Foreign Secretary David Milliband told the House of Commons in February of 2010, "The political and diplomatic effort continues in close liaison with the family. Everybody's hearts goes out to the Chandlers and we will continue to make every effort to help resolve this very distressing case." Clearly the Chandlers disagree.
The argument could be made that as tourists, they deserved whatever they got and it was none of the UK government's concern how their dilemma was resolved. After all the Foreign Office clearly warns their citizens about the dangers of Somalia and other regions. Their advice is clear if unhelpful.
Piracy is a significant threat in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean, especially for shipping which does not take appropriate precautions or follow agreed shipping industry best practice guidelines. Sailing vessels are particularly vulnerable to attack. See Safety and Safety - Sea Travel.
There is no British representation in any part of Somalia and we are unable to provide consular assistance there. Should you need consular assistance please travel to the British Embassy in Addis Ababa or the British High Commission in Nairobi. See General section - Registration.
Should you decide to travel to Somalia against this Travel Advice, you should take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling. See General - Insurance.
The other argument is that if your government, to which a lifetime of taxes has been paid, does not do everything it can to protect you, then what good is it? In many minds, a rescue operation would be launched and Britain's finest would bring the couple home.
The UK government has a two-faced approach of publicly not paying ransoms but supporting the world center for ransom payments to pirates via British insurance companies.
In the real world, based on their testimony, it seemed the first scenario was the correct one and the UK government actually didn't give a damn. The Chandlers say all they or their families were offered was "tea and sympathy."
The Chandlers' testimony before a foreign affairs committee inquiry into piracy off Somalia is part of a series of investigations into whether the UK government is addressing the problem. The Chandlers pointed out that not only did their family not get any assistance, but they weren't even contacted until long after they had been taken. They point out that although they were hostages, their family was the victim of extortion. The scathing presentation highlighted the huge gap between the victims of piracy and the efforts of those hired to deal with the crime.
The Chandlers' presentation was postponed until yesterday, but came right on the heels of a London anti-piracy conference which featured a revealing speech from the President of Puntland and workshops like "Managing the Reputation of Your Company in the Event of an Incident" that reflect the industry's hands-off approach to fixing piracy versus managing it. In most cases, the primary goal of the maritime industry is to manage risk and cost, often at the expense of the mariner. Seafarers in the employ of companies have been forced to spend weeks and months in degrading and abusive conditions while negotiators try to reduce insurance payments on premiums already paid.
Although the convoluted mix of flag, owner, charterer, crew provider, cargo owner and international laws makes resolving commercial kidnappings difficult, there still seems to be a pervasive sense by the kidnap victims that more should be done to mitigate the human damage, rather than to simply preserve corporate image and bank account.
The personal cost of piracy and the clumsy, self-serving efforts of governments and corporations are often hidden from the public. That is not to move the fault from the criminals but more exposure to the effects of delayed response, casual management of hostages and lack of interest from governments can only be beneficial.
The anti-piracy conference in Malmo, Sweden took the unusual step of featuring Calixto Caniete, master of the Remuar, giving his emotional and disturbing account of his kidnap in Somalia.. These rare windows into the reality of piracy run counter to the what is becoming the familiar line up of industry, maritime, legal and UN presentations