5 FCO support for victims and families |
142. The FCO is the department responsible for
the Government's reaction when UK citizens are taken hostage overseas,
including hostages held by Somali pirates. The Minister told us
that the FCO's travel advice is "clear", and that "we
are unable to provide consular assistance in Somalia". He
further stated that for British citizens taken hostage in Somalia,
as elsewhere, "in accordance with HMG's long standing policy
we would not facilitate or negotiate the payment of a ransom.
Consular staff would remain in contact with families of the hostages
while they remained kidnapped".
143. The FCO provides warnings in its travel
advice about piracy attack in the region. At present, FCO advice
Sailing vessels are particularly vulnerable to attack
due to their low speed and low freeboard. We advise against all
but essential travel by yacht and leisure craft on the high seas
in the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea and part of the Indian Ocean,
as bounded by the latitude and longitude coordinates above [15°N
in the Red Sea, 23°N in the Arabian Sea, 78°E and 15°S
in the Indian Ocean].
PAUL AND RACHEL CHANDLER
144. Paul and Rachel Chandler's yacht, the Lynn
Rival, was hijacked in October 2009 while sailing west from the
Seychelles toward Tanga, in northern Tanzania. It is one of about
10 hijackings of yachts in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean since
2007. The couple
were forced to sail toward Somalia before being transferred to
another ship and taken on shore. They were held hostage by the
pirate group for just over a year.
145. The FCO led the Government's response to
the Chandlers' abduction, and both the FCO and the Ministry of
Defence were criticised in the press for their handling of the
case. In their appearance before us, Paul and Rachel Chandler
made a number of criticisms of the FCO's approach.
146. At the point when the Chandlers' yacht was
hijacked, it was 60 nautical miles off the west coast of the main
island in the Seychelles and still within the Seychelles archipelago.
This hijacking was much closer to shore than might have been expected.
However, the planned journey to Tanzania would have involved passing
through the high-risk area. Rachel Chandler stated that they had
checked all available travel warnings when they were in the UK
six weeks before their trip. The FCO states that its Travel Advice
for the Seychelles before the kidnapping contained the following
reports of the hijacking of vessels by Somali pirates
in the northern and western fringes of Seychelles exclusive economic
zone waters; for example near Assumption Island. These incidents
have happened hundreds of miles from Mahé and the main
tourist areas. In response, Seychelles has deployed its Coast
Guard, is stationing small units of its Defence Force to the outer
islands and some remote inner islands, and is receiving assistance
from the international community.
The Chandlers stated that they did not recall seeing
the FCO advice against travel before they left the Seychelles,
and recommended that piracy advice be available in a low bandwidth
to allow travellers to access it in areas with poor internet connection,
in the same way that they can access weather warnings.
that the Government review the medium in which information on
piracy such as travel warnings is released, in order to ensure
that it is accessible to different users, including yachtsmen.
We further recommend that the Government intensifies its efforts
to draw to the attention of seafarers the information that is
available on the Maritime Security Centre Horn of Africa (MSCHOA)
and NATO websites about specific sea areas at risk of pirate attack.
Securing their release
147. The Chandlers and their family in the UK
were involved in lengthy negotiations to secure their release.
A ransom of $440,000 was paid, although it did not immediately
result in their release. Paul and Rachel Chandler told us that
the FCO had no role in securing their release from their captivity,
attributing their eventual liberation to work done by their family,
pro bono consultants and members of the Somali diaspora community.
They further suggested that the FCO was not the correct department
to handle their case, and that the police would have been more
148. The FCO responded to this criticism, telling
us that it was actively involved in efforts to secure Paul and
Rachel Chandler's release. However, when asked if the Government
knew of the details of how the Chandlers were freed, the Minister
admitted to not knowing the details of their release; and Chris
Holtby, Deputy Head of Security Policy Department at the Foreign
and Commonwealth Office, stated that "in so far as the Chandlers
have wanted to share it with consular officials, then they know,
but payment of ransom is not a matter for government".
The Minister provided further details in a letter to us following
his appearance, explaining that in the Chandlers' case:
as with any kidnap case, a dedicated team from across
Whitehall met regularly to monitor developments and agree actions.
COBR also met on a number of occasions during the kidnap. We did
everything we could to secure their release within the terms of
our policy on ransom payments, and discussed regularly the options
available to HMG for securing Paul and Rachel's safe release as
quickly as possible. For example, we used our contacts in the
region to gain information and bring influence to bear on the
However, the letter went on to state that:
The FCO did not make or facilitate the payment of
a ransom and we therefore have little information about what finally
secured the couple's release.
149. We acknowledge that the FCO cannot comment
publicly on all aspects of its work on the Chandlers' case. However,
we are surprised and concerned that the FCO was able to provide
us with so little detail on this case, particularly given that
during the Chandlers' captivity the FCO were the department responsible.
recommend that the Government review its handling of the Chandlers'
case to ascertain whether improvements could be made for the future,
and we request that the Government present its conclusions in
its response to this report.
Support for the family
150. The Minister informed us that FCO consular
staff remained in frequent touch with Paul and Rachel Chandler's
family throughout their ordeal, and the family attended meetings
in the FCO to meet operational staff, and to link by Video Telephone
Conference with the British High Commission in Nairobi.
However, in their written and oral evidence, the Chandlers appeared
to criticise strongly the FCO's support for their family, characterising
it as merely "tea and sympathy",
and stating that:
We were disappointed to learn that the assistance
from the FCO was, if anything, negative. The support and advice
to our siblings, who were always likely to be on the receiving
end of begging phone calls, was distressingly inadequate.
However, the Chandlers praised the FCO's support
once they arrived in Kenya and on their travel and arrival in
Britain, where they were provided with FCO accommodation for a
brief period. We
are disappointed that Paul and Rachel Chandler did not feel that
their family was adequately supported during their ordeal. We
recommend that the FCO review its communication and other procedures
to provide support to family members of British hostages abroad,
and provide its conclusions to the Committee in response to this
259 Ev 68 Back
"Piracy in the Indian Ocean", Foreign and Commonwealth
Office, see fco.gov.uk Back
"To sail the Gulf of Aden is like playing Russian Roulette",
EUNAVOR website, 2 November 2011, eunavfor.eu Back
Q 321 Back
Q 360 and Ev 77 -78, Back
Q 344, and evidence received in confidence. Back
Q 308 and Q 310 Back
Ev 71 Back
Ev 71 Back
Ev 71 Back
Q 347 Back
Ev 78, para 29 Back