Two of the slain Americans, Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle of Seattle, are seen on a yacht in Bodega Bay, Calif., in this photo from June 11, 2005.
Two of the slain Americans, Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle of Seattle, are seen on a yacht in Bodega Bay, Calif., in this photo from June 11, 2005. Joe Grande/AP
Four Americans taken hostage by Somali pirates off East Africa were shot and killed by their captors Monday, the U.S. military said. The deaths mark the first time U.S. citizens have been killed in a wave of pirate attacks plaguing the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean for years.
U.S. naval forces, who were trailing the Americans' captured yacht with four warships, quickly boarded the vessel after hearing the gunfire and tried to provide lifesaving care to the Americans, but they died of their wounds, the U.S. Central Command said in a statement from Tampa, Fla.
The Americans had been sailing in the remote waters between Oman and Somalia.
Two pirates were killed during the confrontation and 13 were captured and detained, CentCom said. The remains of two other pirates who were already dead for some time were also found. The U.S. military didn't state how those two might have died.
The Americans had been sailing in the remote waters between Oman and Somalia when their yacht Quest was overtaken. The Quest was the home of Jean and Scott Adam of California, who had been sailing around the world since December 2004 to distrubute Bibles. The two other Americans onboard were Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle of Seattle.
Military officials say they had been trying to work out a negotiated settlement for the release of the four Americans, but early this morning the situation unraveled. "We express our deepest condolences for the innocent lives callously lost aboard the Quest," said Gen. James N. Mattis, the CentCom commander.
The U.S. said a total of 19 pirates were believed to have been involved in the hijacking of the Quest.
Only minutes before the military said the four Americans had died, a Somali pirate told The Associated Press by phone that if the yacht was attacked, "the hostages will be the first to go."
"Some pirates have even suggested rigging the yacht with land mines and explosives so as the whole yacht explodes with the first gunshot," said the pirate, who gave his name as Abdullahi Mohamed and who claimed to be a friend of the pirates holding the four Americans.
But it remained unclear why the pirates — who are widely seen as rational, if ruthless businessmen — would kill their only form of leverage. U.S. naval officials insisted they had not launched a rescue operation and are still trying to piece together events.
Graeme Gibbon-Brooks, the head of Dryad Maritime Intelligence, said he was confounded by the turn of events.
"We have heard threats against the lives of Americans before but it strikes me as being very, very unusual why they would kill hostages outright," he said, adding that the pirates must realize that killing Americans would invite a military response.
Courtesy of svquest.com
Scott and Jean Adam pose in an undated photo posted on their website, svquest.com, which promotes and documents their 'around-the-world' voyage and other travels since 2002.
Scott and Jean Adam pose in an undated photo posted on their website, svquest.com, which promotes and documents their 'around-the-world' voyage and other travels since 2002. Courtesy of svquest.com
The military said U.S. forces have been monitoring the Quest for about three days, since shortly after the pirate attack on Friday. Four Navy warships were involved, including an aircraft carrier.
Last week a Somali pirate was sentenced to 33 years in prison by a New York court for the 2009 hijacking of the Maersk Alabama, a U.S. cargo vessel. That hijacking ended when Navy sharpshooters killed several pirates holding the ship's captain.
Piracy is rampant off the coast of Somalia. The European Union estimates that pirates are currently holding 31 vessels and nearly 700 people hostage.
NPR's Rachel Martin and Frank Langfitt contributed to this report, which contains material from The Associated Press