Somali pirates release British couple

Somali pirates have freed Paul and Rachel Chandler after a year in captivity.

A photo made on January 28, 2010 shows Briton Paul Chandler at a location in central Somalia, where he is being held since he and his wife Rachel were kidnapped as they sailed their yacht, the Lynn Rival, in the Indian Ocean on October 23, 2009. Since they were captured by Somali pirates, the Chandlers were brought ashore and have been held in central Somalia.  A respected Somali doctor, Abdi Mohamed Helmi "Hangul," who was allowed to briefly examine the hostages on January 28 said both Paul and Rachel were sick and risked getting worse if no assistance was organized soon. The pair are being held in separate locations in rugged areas between the coastal village of Elhur and the small town of Amara, further inland.   AFP PHOTO/MOHAMED DAHIR

Somali pirates have 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 to their relatives as soon as they entered the safety of the compound housing the administration headquarters.

"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 said "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 388-day captivity and were invited to take a shower upon arriving at the compound of Himan and Heeb president, Mohamed Aden "Tiiceey".

"No, we were not well treated," Rachel Chandler said, answering a question as she entered the compound. She looked thin but in no worse health than when an AFP reporter visited them in captivity in January.

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.

A plane left Wilson airport in Nairobi shortly after their arrival in Adado and was due to bring them back to the Kenyan capital later today.

An elder had said on Saturday that the pirates had agreed to free the Chandlers following the payment of $320,000 on top of $400,000 already received during an aborted release attempt earlier this year.

Other elders said the total ransom may have reached close to a million dollars.

The British government has a strict policy of not paying any ransoms.