Four Americans Held on Hijacked Yacht Are Killed
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|Tue, 02-22-2011 - 3:54pm|
Didn't these people hear about the piracy & hostage taking? It's sad they've been killed but it was foolish & naive to sail into this area.
Four Americans taken hostage after their yacht was hijacked by 19 Somali pirates off the Horn of Africa last week were killed by their captors early Tuesday, American military officials said.
The four travelers, the youngest of whom was 59, appeared to be the first American hostages to be killed by pirates since a wave of hijackings around the Horn of Africa began two decades ago. A French hostage, held with his family, was killed in 2009 during a rescue operation by French commandos.
The Americans, Jean and Scott Adam, from Southern California, and Phyllis Mackay and Robert A. Riggle, from Seattle, were sailing on their 58-foot yacht for the tiny nation of Djibouti to refuel when they were hijacked several hundred miles off the coast of Oman on Friday afternoon.
A Navy warship had been shadowing the yacht, called the Quest, since Saturday. The pirated vessel appeared to be moving toward the Somali coast in the days before the confrontation, The Associated Press reported; once pirates reach shore with hostages, options for a rescue are extremely limited.
American officials had opened a channel of communication between the pirates’ financier as well as elders from their village to help negotiate the hostages’ release. “There was a dispute about money, and the situation went south quickly,” said one American official involved in the discussions.
The military said there had been signs of a deadly dispute between the pirates. It is rare for Somali pirates to kill their hostages, analysts said, since their purpose is to collect ransom for the safe return of ships and crew, a multimillion-dollar illicit business.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the United States “strongly condemns the murder” of the hostages. “Our deepest sympathies go out to the victims’ families at this time,” she said.
As the day progressed, military accounts converged and a picture of what transpired on the Quest came into sharper focus.
At a briefing on Tuesday, Vice Adm. Mark Fox, the commander of the United States Naval Forces Central Command, described a situation that unexpectedly spiraled out of control.
The Navy made contact and started negotiations with the pirates shortly after it began shadowing the yacht on Saturday. On Monday, two of the pirates boarded the Sterett, by now some 600 yards from the Quest, to continue talks, and stayed on board the Navy destroyer overnight.
The confrontation began midmorning Tuesday, after a pirate fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the Sterett.
Almost immediately gunfire erupted from inside the cabin of the yacht, Admiral Fox said, and several pirates appeared at its bow with their hands in the air.
In response, the military said, a small rescue force of 15 Navy Seals in two high-speed assault craft moved to board the Quest.
An American military official said the Navy force boarded the Quest and then shot and killed one pirate and stabbed another, killing him as well. The official said there was no gunfire from the pirates as the Navy force boarded the Quest or any time after that.
Once aboard, the American force found two pirates already dead, apparently killed by the other pirates on the Quest. The official said that it appeared to the Navy Seals on the yacht that the pirates were in disarray and that a fight had broken out among them.
It was unclear if the hostages were shot in the course of a dispute among the pirates, but the military official said that all four Americans had been shot before the Navy force boarded the vessel. Two were already dead and two others gravely wounded. Despite efforts to save them, those two also died, the military said.
Of the total 19 pirates involved in the initial hijacking, four were dead, and 15 — including the two who had been on the Sterett to negotiate — were being held aboard the aircraft carrier Enterprise, the military said.
The White House press secretary, Jay Carney, said that President Obama had been notified at 4:42 a.m. Eastern time by the homeland security adviser, John Brennan, that the four American hostages were dead, calling the outcome “tragic.”
He added: “The president did, over the weekend on Saturday, authorize the use of force in the case of an imminent threat to those hostages.”
Admiral Fox said he could not characterize the pace or tone of the negotiations and said he did not know what caused the pirates to fire the rocket-propelled grenade as the negotiations continued.
Analysts said the description of events on the Quest appeared to mark a break from the usual behavior of Somali pirates, who tend to view harming hostages as bad for business.
“The deaths of the Americans on the Quest changes that dynamic,” said Nikolas K. Gvosdev, a professor of national security studies at the United States Naval War College, and could “increase pressure on Washington and other governments to shift from a passive ‘patrolling strategy’ to taking more active, direct, and on-shore measures to counter pirate groups.”
Mr. and Mrs. Adams had documented their voyage, which began in December 2004, on a Web site, and described it both as travel and as Christian evangelism: “finding homes for thousands of Bibles, which have been donated through grants and gifts, as we travel from place to place.”
Scott Stolnitz, a friend of the couple, said that Mr. Adam, 70, had studied theology, and at one point sought to obtain a doctorate degree in the subject.
Retired for seven years, the couple, from Marina del Rey, Calif., had sailed almost nonstop. Mr. Adam was a unit production manager in Hollywood; Mrs. Adam, 66, was a dentist.
For all their draw to exotic travel, Mrs. Adam was subject to violent bouts of seasickness and took medication to deal with it, Mr. Stolnitz said. One of their final blog posts suggested that their health was deteriorating slightly, as they talked about hiring a crew to help them.
An earlier statement by Blue Water Rallies, which organizes group cruising expeditions, said the Adams, Ms. Mackay and Mr. Riggle had sailed with their group from Phuket, Thailand, to Mumbai, India.
The Adams’ yacht left the relative safety of the group on Feb. 15 to take an alternate route to Salalah, Oman.
The American Navy has requested that vessels stick to designated shipping lanes when passing through the Arabian Sea, where pirates continue to strike with impunity, despite the presence of dozens of warships. Ships often travel in numbers, and the Navy sometimes provides escorts for convoys.
Another case of piracy against private boats was that of Paul and Rachel Chandler, sailors from a London suburb seeking adventure in similar waters in 2009. Their boat was hijacked by Somali gunmen, who held them for more than a year.
Despite an international effort to ensure safe passage through the world’s most treacherous waters, pirates have escalated their attacks in recent years, striking more ships and taking more hostages last year than in any year on record, according to the Piracy Reporting Center of the International Maritime Bureau.
“At the moment, it looks like it’s getting out of control,” said Capt. Pottengal Mukundan, director of the maritime bureau, which has tracked incidents of piracy at sea since 1991.
In a blog post, apparently written last year, the Seattle couple — Ms. Mackay, 59, and Mr. Riggle, 67, — discussed traveling through pirate-infested waters around Somalia with an air of confidence.
“The globalization of the world has allowed its citizens to be up to date on the happenings in the Gulf of Aden,” they wrote. “The pirates have lost their surprise attack.”
But, he added: “The southern area of the Red Sea is still close enough to Somali, Sudan, and Eritrea to be a threat. We should not take this threat lightly and have decided to maintain some sort of grouping to show the pirates that we mean to be safe.”
Earnest Baker, who knew Mr. and Mrs. Adams from the Del Rey Yacht Club in Marina del Rey, said he was struggling to understand why Mr. Adams would have possibly left the group of other boats, meant to provide safety in numbers. “That’s the only thing that doesn’t make sense in my mind,” he said. He wondered if there was some kind of emergency that forced them to press on ahead of other boats.
“These are professional guys who knew what they were dealing with,” he said. “They weren’t going to take silly risks.”
At the present time, 33 vessels bearing 712 hostages were still being held for ransom. But of those, only one — a South African yacht with two passengers hijacked in 2010 — was a recreational vessel.