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The History of Maritime Piracy

Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX  76244-0425

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Books for Adults - Nonfiction

Cover Art: Hostage
Hostage: A Year at Gunpoint with Somali Pirates
Paul and Rachel Chandler with Sarah Edworthy
Chicago Review Press, 2012, ISBN 978-1-61374-442-0, US $15.95 / CAN $17.25 / £ 9.99
Ebook formats available US $12.99


At the shipyard that built HMS Agamemnon – the 64-gun warship that became Horatio Nelson’s favorite – a tarp-covered yacht arrives in December 2009. Her shroud protects her from prying eyes, allowing her to retain her anonymity. Lynn Rival is the first British yacht to succumb to a pirate attack in the Indian Ocean.

Rachel and Paul Chandler are heading to their next port of call, Tanzania, when armed men board their yacht in the wee hours of the morning on 23 October 2009. Questions race through Rachel’s mind when she realizes they are Somali pirates.

How did they get here, so far from Somalia, so close to the Seychelles?
Why are the warships not stopping them?
What is the Seychelles coastguard doing with all the new resources they are supposed to be deploying?
Why weren’t we warned when we left Port Victoria? (17)

But what can she and her husband do? They are an English couple, enjoying their retirement as they sail around the world. Rather than risk their lives, they surrender. Unlike many of the seamen who endure such captivity until the shipping company negotiates and pays an acceptable ransom demand, the Chandlers are taken from their yacht into Somalia. What follows is the harrowing account of their ordeal, from the moment the pirates approach, through the many months of captivity until after their release thirteen months later.

They also discuss the lengthy and aggravating negotiation process. The pirates expect a high ransom, but the reality of what they want and get are vastly different. This causes additional problems, as do the intermediaries who negotiate on the pirates’ behalf and the Chandlers’ family, which must raise the ransom. Even then, there’s no guarantee that the sum will arrive or that the hostages will be released.

The book includes a glossary of Somali/English words, deck plans for the Lynn Rival, maps and diagrams, photographs, a “Behind the scenes” section, a postscript entitled “2001: The ex-hostage learning curve”, and a list of organizations and areas referred to in the book. If there is any drawback to the volume, it is the publisher’s poor choice for the font chosen to represent the diary entries. It is faint and difficult to read without a magnifying glass.

Throughout Hostage, the Chandlers share how maintaining a routine, doing simple tasks, allow them to maintain their sanity. The pirates permit them to listen to the radio, and nearly a year into their ordeal, Paul records one poignant sentiment about the reality of piracy and how most people view pirates.

It’s Sunday, 19 September. I am half listening to the World Service and catch ‘. . . International Talk Like a Pirate Day . . .’ They can’t be serious? I listen on. Apparently they are. It has caught on, enough to warrant a five-minute slot on Newshour. The rolling of ‘r’s is appropriate, but there’s not much ‘Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum’ or ‘Heave ho, me hearties’ here. A lighter moment, but how I do wish that the BBC had taken the opportunity to add a rider: that modern piracy is no laughing matter and that hundreds of hostages are held captive in appalling conditions. (334)

Recounted through individual journal entries, transcripts of phone conversations, and a joint narrative, the Chandlers provide a vivid, terrifying portrayal of what they endured and of the pirates who imprisoned them. Their diaries show the disparity between how the pirates treated and acted with Paul versus Rachel, and how they reacted to each other’s interactions with the pirates following the two periods of separation that the Chandlers experienced. Nothing is sugar-coated here, and the rawness of hope, humiliation, anger, terror, despair, and frustration seep into readers’ pores until we experience only a minute fraction of what this couple endured.
An update

Review Copyrighted ©2012 Cindy Vallar

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