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Pirate hostages: Sailors 'forced to stand by'

British sailors watched helplessly as Somali pirates seized hostages Paul and Rachel Chandler, it was revealed yesterday. 

Supply ship RFA Wave Knight, which regularly operates out of Plymouth, was sent to intercept the pirates as they grabbed the couple from their yacht on the night of October 28. But the crew, made up of 75 merchant seaman and 25 Navy sailors, were under orders not to fire in case the hostages were caught in a bloody gun fight or killed there and then.

They conducted a three-hour battle with the pirates' mothership, the Kota Wajar, a container ship which was en route to capture Mr and Mrs Chandler, and tried to head it off-course. But their efforts were to no avail as the Chandlers were transferred by small boat from their yacht to the mothership just 50ft away from them.
RFA Wave Knight was dragged into the conflict as the Navy's nearest battleship, HMS Cumberland, was two hours away.

The supply ship was ordered to try to slow down the Kota Wajar, which is twice its size, potentially affording Cumberland time to get to the scene.

Wave Knight, a Royal Fleet Auxiliary oil tanker which is part of the Nato anti-piracy fleet off East Africa, was ill-prepared to take on the pirate ship, but pluckily attempted to stop the container capturing the couple.

The account from a crewman, who has asked not to be named, suggests the crew were angry that they were not given clearance to open fire on the pirates. He said they were left "depressed and frustrated" as the Kota Wajar made off with their captives towards Somalia and they had not been able to save the Britons.

The insider said yesterday: "We saw the moment they were handed over and were forced to stand by helpless. We did everything possible to save them."

Given that the Wave Knight is an oil tanker not a war ship, trying to knock the Somalis off-course was highly dangerous.

The sailors also believed the pirates could have had an arsenal of weapons on board.

It is thought the crew were angered when they heard reports that the ship supposedly found the yacht just floating, which they say is "simply not true". The Somali pirates are demanding a $7 million (£4.26 million) ransom for the couple.

Retired civil engineer Mr Chandler, 59, whose 98-year-old father Alfred Chandler lives in Churchfield, Dartmouth, and his wife, 55, were captured three weeks ago. The couple from Tunbridge Wells, Kent, were sailing from the Seychelles towards Tanzania when armed men boarded their yacht, the SS Lynn Rival.

The Ministry of Defence would only add yesterday that the ship was "doing her best to protect" the Chandlers.
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