Image: Rachel and Paul Chandler
Mustafa Abdi  /  AFP - Getty Images
Rachel and Paul Chandler have asked to be given space and privacy.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 11/15/2010 9:31:42 AM ET 2010-11-15T14:31:42

Paul and Rachel Chandler — the British couple held hostage by Somali pirates for 388 days — have been given the news that Paul Chandler's father died while the pair was in captivity, the couple said Monday.

The Chandlers awoke Monday to their first full day of freedom since their October 2009 hijacking off the coast of East Africa. They asked in a statement that they be given space and privacy.

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"We have just learned that Paul's father died in late July, and we obviously need to come to terms with that," the statement said. The couple said they would soon travel from Kenya, where they spent Sunday night, to the U.K.

The retired British couple were sailing the world on a 38-foot-yacht that represented most of their life savings when Somali pirates captured them last year near the island nation of Seychelles.

Pirates released the couple Sunday morning , ending one of the most dramatic and drawn-out hostage situations since pirate attacks spiked off East Africa.

The Chandlers met with the Somali prime minister in Mogadishu. A private jet then flew them to the military wing of Nairobi's main airport, where they were whisked away in a British Embassy vehicle.

"We are fine, rather skinny and bony, but we are fine," Paul Chandler told the BBC on Sunday. "We were told on Friday in a way which gave us some confidence. But otherwise, we've been told we are going to be released almost every 10 days."

The pirates typically only release hostages for multimillion-dollar ransoms. But unlike the companies who own large transport ships, the Chandlers are far from rich. Paul Chandler has been identified in the British media as a retired construction site manager, while Rachel has been described as an economist.

Pirates had initially sought a $7 million ransom. The Chandler family said in a statement Sunday that during protracted discussions with pirates that it was "a difficult task" to convey that Paul and Rachel were "two retired people on a sailing trip on a small private yacht and not part of a major commercial enterprise."

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The family said it would not comment on questions about payment to the pirates, so as not to encourage the capture of other private individuals.

However, Britain's Sky News reported that the pirates had received about 470,000 pounds ($755,000) in exchange for the couple's release. The money is believed to been raised by family members and friends. Some members of the U.K.'s Somali community also donated to the fund, according to reports in the British press.

U.K. government officials also stressed that "no part" of the 30 million pounds ($48 million) in aid sent to Somalia during the past year had been spent on gaining the couple's freedom, The Daily Telegraph reported.

Somalia has lacked an effective central government for almost two decades and is awash with weapons. The mayhem on land has allowed piracy to boom in the strategic waterways off its shores linking Europe to Asia and Africa.

'Kidnapping is never justified'
According to Ecoterra, a rights group that monitors shipping in the Indian Ocean, more than 500 crew members and nearly 30 ships were still being held by Somali pirates as of Nov. 10.

Pirates in southern Somalia are still holding two South Africans seized from their yacht about two weeks ago.

One French hostage was killed and four were freed in April 2009 when French forces attacked a yacht that had been hijacked by Somali pirates.

"I unreservedly condemn the actions of those that held the Chandlers for so long," British Prime Minister David Cameron said. "Kidnapping is never justified."

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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