Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

By same author


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Grandmother tells of her dramatic escape from pirates as she stood in the blood of her husband


From Andrew Drummond, Bangkok


Pictures: Andrew Chant/Linda Robertson


 A 57-yr-old British grandmother told today of her dramatic escape from pirates, who boarded her yacht, murdered her husband and then bound her naked like a 'trussed chicken'.


Linda Robertson sobbed as she spoke of how she realised her husband had been bludgeoned to death with a hammer and thrown into the sea off the coast of Thailand. 'I knew because I was walking in his blood.'


And she told how she upped anchor and put the boat on full throttle as three Burmese migrant fisherman attempted to retake control of their  44 ft yacht Mr. Bean,  when they realised the dinghy they were making an escape in had a duff engine.


After a nine ordeal bound with her hands and feet tied behind her,  the fishermen had finally agreed to leave in the boats dinghy with a paltry collection of computers, mobile phones, and electronic equipment.


'But they had only got thirty yards when the engine began to splutter as I knew it would,' said Linda.


'They turned back to the boat.  So I rushed to pull up the anchor, which was quite easy, because they had only let out thirty yards.  Then I put the boat into full throttle and headed out to see leaving them behind. 



'Then I saw them head to shore and I knew my ordeal was over and I was safe. I cannot believe I survived.'


The drama began for the two semi-retired grandparents Linda and Malcolm Robertson early on Tuesday morning.


Police believe that 64-yr-old Malcolm Robertson, who runs a chain of coffee shops in St. Leonard's, Sussex, may have also had his throat cut due to the quantity of blood found on the boat.


12. 35 a.m.


'We were on a mooring bay off the Buntang Islands, the last Thai islands before Malaysia, when I heard the sound of people clambering aboard.


'I was in the stern cabin and my husband Malcolm was in the forepeak cabin. I was naked. It was a very hot night.  Three young men came in. They were holding hammers and they pushed me back and tied and gagged me.


'Then they went towards the forward cabin and I heard my husband shouting 'Get off my boat!'.


'I heard a scuffle and did not hear any more.  They came back to me and made signs to me to start the engine, which I did.'


'There was no sign of my husband,' she said and sobbed: 'I think this was the first time I realised he might be dead. I waited and listened and heard nothing.


'The night was pitch black and the boat headed north. They put me back in my cabin all trussed up and would come and get me if they had a problem. 



02.30 am Tuesday: 


'First they wanted to know how the fuel system worked, and I showed them. They did not know where the switches were.


'But as I walked through the boat I realised I was walking through the blood of my husband.


'From that moment on I knew I was just fending for my life and might have to fight for it or take my chance in the ocean.  I made gestures as if to ask 'Are you going to kill me?'.


'They made signs to say 'No' they were going to leave when they had finished and pointed to the clock in my cabin. 


'One, the youngest was trying to be kind, even though he was guarding me with a machete.  He brought me food and drink.


'He kept saying 'I am sorry'. Possibly one of the few English phrases he knew and he brought me some food and drink from the galley.'


6 am:


'By 6 am it was already quite light. We had been motoring for over five hours and the dawn gave me hope.  My hands and feet were swelling because I was trussed up naked like a chicken. It was all very degrading. I could not cover anything up. 


'But if you think you are going to die all such matters become secondary.


'The boat stopped.  It was then my thoughts turned to escape.  One of the men came down and asked me how to put down the anchor.  It was then that they started to ransack the boat.


'I could still neither see nor hear any sound of my husband. But earlier there had been a sound and movement as if something was being moved to another boat.  I realised later it was my husband being put into the sea.


'I thought this is the time to escape. I tried to dive off the boat, but left it too late and was caught off balance. I started to run away from them. I was on top forward next to the hatch above my husband's bunk,  and I was standing in his blood.


'They caught me and tied me even more severely.  Then we headed north for another three hours or so and the boat started to slow again.


9.30 am:


'They dropped anchor again. By this time I estimated we must have travelled seventy or eighty miles north. I could see fishing boats. The men put me back in the cabin and shut the hatch and I heard them start the 2 horsepower Yahama engine of the rubber dinghy.




Linda Roberton in Mr. Bean's dinghy


 


10.30 am:


'I managed to free myself and get out onto the deck. I knew the dinghy would play up and had to act quickly. Only Malcolm knew how to deal with it. I switched on the EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon). Then  I looked to see to my horror that the pirates were attempting to paddle back to the boat.


'If they knew I had switched on the distress system, I thought, they would kill me for sure.


'I ran and pulled up the anchor. Luckily they had played out only 30 feet of chain, so it was quite easy.  I started the engine and headed out towards the fishing boats. I looked around and saw the pirates heading towards the shore.


'I could not believe the pirates had left me. I headed towards the fishing fleet putting out Mayday signals.


'Then I started waving my blue and white sarong and shouted 'Mayday'. But as I approached them the fishing boats began to turn away from me.


11 am:


'I do not think the fishermen knew what a Mayday situation was. I had to almost ram them to get their attention.


'I pulled Mr. Bean alongside one of the boats. It was a futile situation. They ignored me to I jumped off my boat onto the fishing boat.


'I would not go back to my boat. I did not want to feel Malcolm's blood on my feet.  They could see I was distressed though, but they did not understand what I was saying, so they called the police.


'Soon along came a boat with Rangers from the Turatao National Park. They had uniforms and badges, I would not let them go. I was scared to stay alone with the fisherman. I thought perhaps they might know the pirates or even be working with them.


'Then along came a police launch with four policemen in camouflage combat gear and machine guns.


'I don't know how I managed to explain it to them. But eventually they got the message, I pointed to the headland, which the dinghy had gone behind, and the police sped off in the right direction.


'Shortly afterwards they brought all them men back and told me they were Burmese migrant workers who were working with the local fishing fleet. They were very proud they had caught them so soon.


'I recognised them immediately. Some of them were even wearing Malcolm's clothes, because they had swum to our boat in the middle of the night wearing only shorts.


'Malcolm and I know this area well. It is really beautiful.  We were planning to berth our boat in Langkawi and then return home.  We have been here for the last three seasons.


'The Thai people have been very kind. They are lovely people. We do not blame them for all this.


'Nurses have given me pills to help me sleep. But they do not stop me having nightmares.


'I hope they find Malcolm's body, but I have no idea of the lats and longs (latitudes and longitudes), of where he was thrown overboard.'



Mrs. Robertson broke down several times as she spoke to me from her hospital bed in Satun, South Thailand, but she cheered up at the thought of being re-united with three of her and Malcolm's four grown up children who arrive in Thailand later this evening.


'Thank god I managed to get a message back home. I would hate to have them get the news of Malcolm's death from the television.'


After we spoke Linda was taken back by the police, accompanied by a friend, to collect some personal belongings.


She did not witness a special 'reconstruction of the crime' as police also lead the Burmese 'suspects' back to re-enact what they did for cameras.


Thai police said they would ask the prosecutor to call for the death penalty for the pirates but they admitted that the Burmese pirates claimed they had run away themselves from a Thai fishing boat where the captain had treated them as slaved.


'They told us they saw the yacht and dived for their freedom. They boarded the yacht intending to take the dinghy but Mr. Robertson was killed when he resisted them.  They tried to get as far away as possible from the fishing fleet they were with.  They decided to rob the boat because they had not been paid.'


 In January 2006 two Thai fishermen swum ashore to Lamai Beach on the island of Koh Samui in the middle of the night to rape and murder Briton Katherine Horton, 21, from Cardiff. They were later sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.


There have been no recent attacks on yachts in Southern Thailand, but Tarutao National Park off Satun, where Linda finally made her escape was an area notorious for pirates during the Second World War, when both guards and prisoners, from two prisons on the island of Turatao went into the piracy business.


The pirates were finally quelled by British troops sent up from what was then known as Malaya.


A well known Thai novel 'The Pirates of Turatao' is based on this period.

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