, ADADO, Somalia, Nov 14 – Somali pirates on Sunday freed British couple Paul and Rachel Chandler, ending an ordeal that started when their yacht was hijacked off the idyllic shores of the Seychelles a year ago.
An AFP correspondent said the Chandlers arrived in Adado, a central Somali town near the Ethiopian border, after the pirates handed them over to the forces of the local self-proclaimed administration of Himan and Heeb.
The couple looked tired but happy as they were given mobile phones to make calls as soon as they entered the safety of the compound housing the administration headquarters under heavy guard.
"They are OK. They are being given breakfast now," said Abdi Mohamed Helmi "Hangul", a Somali surgeon who was instrumental in the Chandlers\’ release.
"They look in relatively good health but they need to be checked," he told AFP. "Security is huge here, inside and outside the compound, nothing can happen to them now."
The Chandlers were wearing the same clothes they have worn during most of their captivity and were invited to take a shower upon arriving at the compound of Himan and Heeb president, Mohamed Aden "Tiiceey".
A deal was struck with the pirates this week and although no official involved in the negotiation spoke of a ransom, local elders in the region said the Chandlers were exchanged for money.
The couple were driven overnight from the central Somali town of Amara, around which they spent most of their captivity, to Adado.
The freed couple from the southern English region of Kent were expected in the coming hours to fly out of Adado, where an aircraft is waiting for them, and stop in Nairobi before going home to their friends and relatives.
An elder had told AFP on Saturday that the pirates had agreed to free the Chandlers following the payment of 320,000 dollars on top of 400,000 dollars already received during an aborted release attempt earlier this year.
"Close to 320,000 dollars have been paid to the pirates, the hostages are only waiting to be transferred now," Abdullahi Mohamoud, an elder in Adado, had said Saturday before the Chandlers left Amara.
The British government has a strict policy of not paying any ransoms.
The money known to have been paid to the pirates, a considerably smaller amount than what their colleagues have been earning from shipowners for cargo, fishing and other vessels, is believed to have been gathered by the Chandler family and members of the Somali diaspora.
The Chandlers were kidnapped on October 23 last year, a day after leaving the Seychelles, where they had spent several weeks on holiday.
The blog chronicling the journeys of their yacht — the Lynn Rival — remained frozen on an abrupt last entry posted in capital letters at 6:41 am on the day of their kidnapping: "PLEASE RING SARAH".
Abdi Yare, a senior pirate commander, expressed surprise that such a vulnerable boat would set sail at the peak of the piracy season, when he spoke to AFP shortly after the hijacking.
"This was an unexpected catch because nobody could have predicted that two people on their own would have dared to venture out in the Indian Ocean at this time," he said.
Somali sea-jackers prowling the region\’s busy trade routes capture dozens of vessels each year to seek ransoms from large ship owners, but cases involving small yachts are rare.
The couple were swiftly brought back to shore by the pirates for an ordeal that has become one of the longest and most high-profile hostage cases in Somalia\’s recent, troubled history.