Pirates kill four U.S. hostages near Somalia

WASHINGTON Tue Feb 22, 2011 3:37pm EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Pirates shot dead four U.S. hostages on a private yacht on Tuesday, the deadliest incident involving Americans kidnapped for ransom in the increasingly dangerous waters off Somalia.

The U.S. military said the pirates shot the hostages before American special forces boarded the vessel.

U.S. troops killed two pirates as they took control of the boat, and took 15 pirates into custody. Another two pirates were found dead when the U.S. special forces arrived but they were not killed by U.S. forces, the military said.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. government was "deeply saddened and very upset by the murder of four American citizens" -- a "deplorable act" that underscored the need for more international cooperation against the pirates.

"We've got to have a more effective approach to maintaining security on the seas, in the ocean lanes, that are so essential to commerce and travel," she told reporters.

Pirate gangs preying on shipping lanes through the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean typically target large merchant ships, with oil tankers the prize catch, but the snatching of foreigners can also yield high ransoms. There were around 750 pirate hostages at the end of January.

The Americans killed on Tuesday were Jean and Scott Adam, from California, as well as Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle from Seattle.

U.S. forces learned of the hijacking on Friday.

The U.S. military said negotiations with the pirates had been under way when on Tuesday morning, without warning, a pirate fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the guided-missile destroyer USS Sterett.

Then gunfire broke out inside the pirated vessel.

"The intent always had been that this would be a negotiated process and not ever go into a point where we actually had gunfire," said Vice Admiral Mark Fox, the head of U.S. naval forces in the turbulent region.

President Barack Obama had authorized the use of force in the case of an imminent threat to the hostages, White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters.

Obama was notified of the deaths at 4:42 a.m. EST.

REVENGE

In April 2009, U.S. Navy special forces freed the captain of the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama by killing three Somali pirates who held him hostage in a lifeboat. Obama had authorized the use of force in that incident as well.

The one surviving pirate from the Maersk incident has been sentenced to 33 years and nine months in prison in a federal court in New York.

Two Somali pirates who spoke with Reuters by telephone on Tuesday said the hostages were ordered killed since the pirates themselves were under attack by U.S. forces.

"Our colleagues called us this morning, that they were being attacked by a U.S. warship," Mohamud, a Somali pirate, told Reuters. "We ordered our comrades to kill the four Americans before they got killed."

Pirate leader Farah, speaking from Bayla, a pirate haven in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland in northern Somalia, vowed to avenge the deaths and capture of his comrades.

"I lost the money I invested and my comrades. No forgiveness for the Americans. Revenge. Our business will go on," he said, adding he had spent $110,000 so far in the hijacking, including on weapons and food and salaries.

Vice Admiral Fox said the incident was yet another sign of how pirates are using larger "mother ships" to move further out to sea, and cautioned vessels to heed warnings about pirate activity in the region.

"The pirates have been able to go for long distances out to sea, up to 1,300, 1,400 nautical miles away from Somalia," Fox said. Pirate activity went all the way to off the coast of India and down to Madagascar, he said.

(Additional reporting by Alister Bull in Washington and Mohamed Ahmed and Abdi Sheikh in Mogadishu; editing by Vicki Allen, Frances Kerry and Mohammad Zargham)

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Comments (52)
capfrank wrote:
I find it extremely disheartening that Somalian pirates can freely operate by stealing millions taking vessels and human hostages, murdering some, while the world watches. If it takes a month, some planes, some carpet bombing to neutralize their ports and access to the sea, then so be it. This has gone on for too many years, and need to stop immediately. There has been no working government for 20 years? Does that not say enough?

Feb 22, 2011 10:10am EST  --  Report as abuse
capfrank wrote:
Just like balancing the budget, or turning a dictatorship into a democracy, hard, painful concessions must be weathered. One country just can not continually feed the world forever. Somalia has been blight on the world stage for too long. Foreign aid is just not working. Weather it is a small number of people who are pirates, or the majority, it is a cancer that must be addressed sooner, rather then later. The 4 retired Americans that were murdered could have been your brother or sister, your parents, or your kids. If they actually were related to you, how then, would you feel about them operating defiantly for years? Some of the world’s problems have readily available solutions. I think this is one of them.

Feb 22, 2011 10:17am EST  --  Report as abuse
StillStanding wrote:
Tragic, yet in fighting pirates there will be tragedies as well as victories. The world’s military however must stand fast, act quickly in these incidents and make it clear that pirates will not be tolerated. I believe there should be a UN sponsored invasion of pirate strongholds. I don’t understand why this has not happened.

Feb 22, 2011 10:46am EST  --  Report as abuse
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