Somali pirates killed four American hostages aboard their yacht before it was taken over by the U.S. military and the pirates were killed or captured, according to the U.S. Central Command.
“At approximately 1 a.m. EST today, while negotiations were ongoing to secure the release of four American hostages, U.S. forces responded to gunfire aboard the pirated vessel (S/V) Quest,” according to the statement.
The boarding team “discovered all four hostages had been shot by their captors,” and, though they were found alive and first aid applied, they soon died, the release said.
Vice Admiral Mark Fox, commander of the U.S. Navy 5th Fleet, told reporters at the Pentagon by telephone from Bahrain the boarding party was U.S. special operations forces. They met no resistance at first. However, during the search of the vessel they killed two pirates, one in a knife fight and the other by gunshot, and they found two others already dead, Fox said. The Navy took 13 pirates into custody, he said.
The U.S. commandos were launched in small boats after the pirates fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a U.S. warship 600 yards away and gunfire was heard on the yacht, Fox said.
Use of Force
President Barack Obama on Feb. 19 authorized the use of force against the pirates “in the case of an imminent threat” to the hostages, according to his press secretary, Jay Carney. The president was notified by counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan at 4:42 a.m. about the Americans killed, Carney said.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a statement released to reporters, said the pirate action was “deplorable.” She said it underscored the need for stability in Somalia and called on other nations to support the African Union’s peacekeeping mission there.
The deadly end came as negotiations were continuing, Fox said. Yesterday, two pirates had come aboard the USS Sterett for talks.
“There were ongoing negotiations that had continued for a number of days and this morning, with absolutely no warning, is when the rocket-propelled grenade was fired and the gunfire erupted on board the yacht,” Fox said.
The 13 captured pirates and two who were negotiating were in U.S. custody. The pirates were armed with a grenade launcher, AK-47 rifles, and small arms, Fox said.
He said the plan is to bring them “to a judicial process and hold them accountable for their activities.”
The Navy had been tracking the pirated yacht since Feb. 18, when it was spotted by a Royal Danish Navy ship off the coast of Oman, Fox said. “We have seen a growing problem here in terms of the pirate activity off the coast of Somalia,” Fox said.
Pirate activity in Gulf of Aden has “actually gone down,” but pirates are going longer distances, up to 1,400 nautical miles from Somalia, Fox said.
The pirates appeared to have launched from a “mother ship” that allows them to operate far from Somalia’s shore, Fox said.
This is a development in pirate operations that is becoming a “game-changer,” Fox told a breakfast meeting of reporters last month.
“In the past you’ll see pirate activity focused on those times when small boats were able to go to sea,” Fox said. By using large, pirated vessels as “mother ships,” they sail thousands of miles to launch their smaller vessels, he said.
Fox said between Sept. 21, 2010, to Jan. 21, hostages of differing nationalities had increased to 770 from 350, “so I would characterize this as a serious problem.”
The Quest hijacking was the 11th this year in the region, according to statistics compiled by the Office of Naval Intelligence. Forty-nine vessels were hijacked in 2010 and 52 in 2009, according to ONI.
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