Somali pirates on Tuesday killed four Americans including a retired couple who had spent several months in Phuket, when efforts to end a hostage drama exploded into violence, the US military said.
Four Somali pirates also died, two of them killed by US Special Forces, in one of the deadliest endings to a raft of hostage-takings off the coast of Somalia over the past six years.
Jean and Scott Adam, a California couple, had been sailing the world on their yacht, Quest for more than seven years and were on their way from Phuket to the Mediterranean on their latest trip.
Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle, a couple from Seattle who joined the Adams, were also killed by the band of 19 pirates who commandeered the yacht in waters southeast of Oman, US officials said.
Four US warships including the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise had been tracking the Quest since it was hijacked, US officials said.
The US military brought two of the pirates aboard the USS Sterett on Monday to conduct negotiations to free the hostages, said Vice Admiral Mark Fox, head of the US Naval Forces Central Command based in Bahrain.
Then early Tuesday morning, with “absolutely no warning”, the pirates launched a rocket-propelled grenade at the Sterett, Adm Fox said, leading US Special Forces to race to the yacht where they heard gunfire.
By the time they boarded, all four Americans had been shot. The US Special Forces soon took control of the yacht, stabbing to death one pirate and shooting dead another, Adm Fox said.
Two more Somali pirates were found dead inside the vessel, the circumstances of their deaths unclear but possibly the result of an earlier fight among the hijackers.
The Adams, who had been circumnavigating the globe for years in their 58-foot pilothouse sloop, spent several months in Phuket, waiting for the right weather conditions, before heading across the Indian Ocean, taking friends Ms Mackay and Mr Riggle with them.
They joined the Blue Water Rally (BWR), which organises groups of yachts to sail together; there is safety in numbers. Together the yachts sailed to Sri Lanka, a tough crossing with strong westerly winds followed by a flat calm.
They called in at Galle in Sri Lanka, where they rested before sailing around the southern tip of India and up to Cochin and Mumbai.
From Mumbai, Jean Adam emailed friends. “We stayed off the coast a bit more than the little boats. We’re anchored happily in Bombay harbour. We can see the Gateway of India [an arch built by the British in colonial times. Ed.] on shore right next to the Taj Mahal Hotel … We are getting fuel and water and a few other essentials and will be leaving for Salalah in Oman, soon.”
They never made it; 275 miles off the coast of Oman they were captured by the pirates. Four days later they were dead.
According to the BWR organizers, the Adams had decided to make their own passage across the Arabian Sea. In a statement posted on its site on Saturday, BWR said, “The Blue Water Rally is very distressed to learn of the hijacking of SV Quest on 18th February. Scott and Jean Adam joined the … rally just before Christmas and had been sailing with the rally from Phuket as far as Mumbai.
“Quest had taken on board two well-known rally participants: Phyllis Mackay and Bob Riggle.
“However, Quest chose to take an independent route from Mumbai to Salalah, leaving the Rally on 15 February. All information is now being handled by the US Central Command and their spokesman in Dubai.”
Just why the Adams decided to leave the rally at this, potentially the most dangerous point, is not clear.
The Somali piracy problem, which surged in 2005, has so far proven intractable. Somali pirates have hijacked vessels large and small over a huge area of the western Arabian Sea; from almost as far west as the coast of India and as far south as the Seychelles and Mombasa.
In most cases, abductees have been released unharmed after payment of a ransom. According to piracy expert, Sharon Gill, Somali pirates amassed US$238 million in ransoms last year.
– Phuket News, AFP