Somali pirates kill 4 Americans on yacht
www.cbc.ca — Four Americans taken hostage by Somali pirates off East Africa were shot and killed by their captors Tuesday, the U.S. military says.
It marks the first time U.S. citizens have been killed in pirate attacks that have plagued the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean for years.
U.S. naval forces, which were trailing the Americans’ captured yacht with four warships, quickly boarded the vessel after hearing the gunfire.
They tried to provide lifesaving care to the Americans, but they died of their wounds, the U.S. Central Command said in a statement.
A member of a U.S. special operations force killed one of the pirates with a knife as he went inside the yacht, said Vice-Admiral Mark Fox, commander of U.S. naval forces for Central Command. He was one of two pirates who died during the confrontation.
Fox said in a televised briefing that the violence Tuesday started when a rocket-propelled grenade, or RPG, was fired from the yacht at the USS Sterett, a guided-missile destroyer 600 metres away.
The grenade missed, and almost immediately afterward small arms fire was heard coming from the yacht, Fox said.
President Barack Obama, who was notified about the deaths at 4:42 a.m. ET, had authorized the military on Saturday to use force in case of an imminent threat to the hostages, said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
Thirteen pirates were captured during the ensuing confrontation, which happened around 9 a.m. East Africa time, the Central Command said in the statement from Tampa, Fla.
The remains of two pirates who died before U.S. naval forces came aboard were also found. The military didn’t say how they died, and it was unclear if the pirates had fought among themselves.
Negotiations had been underway to win the release of the two couples on the pirated vessel Quest when the gunfire was heard, the U.S. military said.
The Quest was the home of Jean and Scott Adam, a couple from California who had been sailing around the world since December 2004 with a yacht full of Bibles. The two other Americans on board were Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle, of Seattle, Wash.
“We express our deepest condolences for the innocent lives callously lost aboard the Quest,” said Gen. James N. Mattis, U.S. Central Command commander.
Just 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 claimed to be a friend of the pirates holding the four Americans.
4 navy warships tracked vessel
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.
The military said U.S. forces have been monitoring the Quest for about three days, since shortly after the pirate attack on Friday.
Pirates hijacked the Quest on Friday several hundred kilometres south of Oman. Fox said mariners are warned about traveling through the area because of the dangers of pirate attacks.
Four navy warships were involved, including an aircraft carrier.
Pirates seek millions in ransoms
The killing of the four Americans appears to underscore an increasingly brutal and aggressive shift pirates have been showing toward hostages.
The conventional wisdom in the shipping industry had been that Somali pirates are businessmen looking for a ransom payday, not insurgents looking to terrorize people.
Pirates â€” who currently hold 30 ships and more than 660 hostages â€” typically win a multimillion ransom for releasing their captives, a huge sum that is shared among investors and pirates.
Given that typical financial motivation, Tuesday’s killings left several unanswered questions, such as whether the four hostages had tried to take over the yacht from the pirates, or if the American forces spooked the pirates by approaching the yacht.
The Adams ran a Bible ministry and have been distributing Bibles to schools and churches in remote villages in areas including the Fiji Islands, Alaska, New Zealand, Central America and French Polynesia.
At the Seattle Singles Yacht Club, friend Hank Curci said Riggle and Macay were carrying out a lifelong dream. The couple left Seattle about nine or 10 months ago.
“Now that they’re gone it’s just difficult for us to accept because it’s like having a family member killed,” he said.