Somali pirates were rushed by Special Forces when gunfire was heard, officials say
The pirates were in radio contact with the U.S. guided missile destroyer Sterett, the closest U.S. ship, when gunfire was heard.
As a U.S. Special Forces team -- Navy SEALs -- rushed to board a yacht hijacked by Somali pirates, a rocket-propelled grenade was fired by the pirates at the Sterett .
All four hostages had been shot by the pirates and killed, officials said.
Adm. Mark Fox, the commander of U.S. naval forces in the region, said he had no details of the negotiations with the pirates and declined to comment when asked if the U.S. had planned to prevent the hostages from being taken ashore if the yacht reached Somalia.
After the grenade was fired at the Sterett, several pirates came on deck with their hands raised, as if trying to surrender, Fox said. The gunfire erupted on board almost immediately. But U.S. officers said it was not known whether the hostages had made an escape attempt or whether disagreements among the pirates prompted the firing.
“I can presume inside the vessel there was a lot of small-arms fire,” Fox said, but he noted that the Special Forces team did not have to fight its way onto the yacht.
As the Special Forces team cleared the vessel, it discovered two pirates who already were dead. Another two were killed by U.S. personnel, one by gunfire and one by a knife, Fox said.
The American boaters who were killed were Jean and Scott Adam of Southern California and Phyllis Mackay and Bob Riggle of Seattle. None of the U.S. forces were injured.
The four ships that had been shadowing the Quest were the carrier Enterprise, guided missile cruiser Leyte Gulf, and guided missile destroyers Sterett and Bulkeley. The four were in the region to support anti-piracy efforts and missions involving the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to U.S. Central Command.
The bodies of the Americans are now aboard the Enterprise.
The U.S. is part of an anti-piracy coalition based in Bahrain with ships from several countries. Piracy off Somalia’s east coast has plagued shipping for several years, with ships held for ransom.
In late 2009, U.S. officials noted that the pirates extended the range of their attacks to the Gulf of Aden between Yemen and Somalia’s north coast. The pirates are also ranging farther out to sea, 600 miles in some cases.
The Sterett, whose home port is San Diego, is named for Andrew Sterett, who was captain of the U.S. schooner Enterprise during the Barbary Wars of 1801 when the U.S. fought with pirates off North Africa over their demand of tribute from ships in the Mediterranean.
-- Tony Perry in San Diego and David S. Cloud in Washington
Upper photo: Scott and Jean Adam in an undated photo. Credit: svquest.com
Lower photo: Phyllis Mackay and Bob Riggle on June 11, 2005. Credit: Joe Grande / Associated Press