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Americans Found Dead On Yacht Held By Pirates
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Americans Found Dead On Yacht Held By Pirates

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Americans Found Dead On Yacht Held By Pirates

Americans Found Dead On Yacht Held By Pirates
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Four Americans captured last week by Somali pilots as they sailed a yacht along Somalia's coast were found dead Tuesday. Steve Inskeep talks with NPR's Frank Langfitt, who covers East Africa and recently returned from a trip to Somalia, to get the latest. Langfitt says details are still very murky.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Let's get the latest now on four Americans captured last week by Somali pirates as they sailed a yacht along Somalia's coast.

They were killed today. NPR's Frank Langfitt is covering this story. He covers East Africa. He recently returned from a trip to Somalia and he's on the line. Frank, what do you know?

FRANK LANGFITT: Well, the details right now are still very murky, Steve. We know that there was a flotilla - an American flotilla included a guided missile cruiser and a couple of destroyers that were following this yacht that the couple were on. They had been traveling around the world distributing Bibles all around the world, and they got caught up in this very dangerous part of the Indian Ocean near Oman by a bunch of pirates.

Now the U.S. is saying that they responded to gunfire on the boat. They boarded the boat and found all four hostages dead. In the battle they killed two pirates, captured 13. They say altogether about 19 pirates were involved in this. And keep in mind this was a sailboat; it was just about 50-some feet long. So, one of the questions would be - why so many pirates on a sailboat with presumably four unarmed sailors.

INSKEEP: Yeah, and there are other details that are beginning to become a little more clear here. The U.S. military is saying that negotiations were underway with the pirates. The idea that the U.S. Naval flotilla wasn't just following this boat, they were talking with them.

LANGFITT: They were. What they try to do with these situations is they don't want the boats to get back to Somalia. You know, as you know, it's maybe the most collapsed state on the planet and once they get these hostages into Somalia, it's very, very hard to get them out because you have militias who guard them and it's a very - as you know - an extremely difficult place for anyone to operate.

What's very odd about this is negotiations were going on and usually negotiations last a long time.

INSKEEP: And do you understand the U.S. military to be saying that they - they say they responded to gunfire. Do you have any idea whether this is gunfire directed at the U.S. military or whether what they were hearing was actually the sound...

LANGFITT: The implication - and we're just going on a press release at this time the implication is it was gunfire going on, on the boat, not that they were being shot at. And, you know, these are obviously very big boats. Being shot at from the yacht wouldn't really concern a destroyer. But the implication is they were responding to shooting on the boat and then they found these folks dead.

INSKEEP: So one possibility - and we don't know yet - but one possibility is what they heard was the execution of these four hostages onboard the boat, and...

LANGFITT: That seems to be what's suggested. Again, we're just beginning to get some of the details.

INSKEEP: Now, let's give the names of these four people: Jean and Scott Adam were a couple from California. They'd been sailing around the world, we're told, since December, 2004 with a yacht full of Bibles. There were two other Americans onboard, Phyllis McKay, I believe, and Bob Riggle. They were of Seattle, Washington. They were in the region for some kind of boat rally and sailing with this boatful of Bibles. Is this entirely clear to you though what they were doing in those very dangerous waters, Frank Langfitt?

LANGFITT: Well, I think they were trying to get back. From what I understand from looking at their website - 'cause they had a Web blog, as many yachters do - they were trying to get back from Asia, where they'd been doing all of this Bible work. And the sailing groups had tried to been staying together to get across the Indian Ocean. Of course, they know how dangerous it is and the risks from Somali pirates. So they were trying to stick together. But obviously in this case it didn't work out. Somali pirates are out there in force. They have big motherships, they have fast skiffs, AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades. So certainly a yacht is no match for that kind of competition.

INSKEEP: Frank, thanks very much.

LANGFITT: You're very welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt, bringing us up to date on news from the coast of Somalia, where four Americans, we're told by the U.S. military, have been killed today in an exchange of fire involving Somali pirates.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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