WASHINGTON, D.C. - Four Americans, including a couple from Seattle, taken hostage by Somali pirates off East Africa were shot and killed by their captors Monday, the U.S. military said. It marks the first time U.S. citizens have been killed in a wave of pirate attacks plaguing the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean for years.
Phyllis Macay and Robert Riggle, both from Seattle, were on board the S/V Quest last week when it was hijacked by pirates along the coast of Oman. The Quest is owned by Jean and Scott Adams, who were also onboard.
U.S. naval forces quickly boarded the captured yacht after hearing the gunfire and tried to provide lifesaving care to the Americans but they died of their wounds, the U.S. Central Command said.
"A rocket grenade was fired from the Quest by the pirates toward the (U.S.S.) Sterett," Vice Admiral Mark Fox, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, said during a news conference. "Immediately thereafter, gunfire also erupted inside the cabin of the Quest. Several pirates appeared on deck and moved up to the bow with their hands in the air in surrender. "
"U.S. Naval reaction forces closed in on the Quest in small boats and boarded the yacht. As they responded to the gunfire, reaching and boarding the Quest, U.S. sailors discovered that all four hostages had been shot by their captors," said Fox.
During the boarding, the U.S. sailors fought with some of the pirates.
Two pirates died during the confrontation and 13 were captured and detained, the U.S. Central Command said. The remains of two other pirates who were already dead for some time were also found. The U.S. military didn't state how those two might have died.
Negotiations had been under way to try to win the release of the two couples on the pirated vessel Quest when the gunfire was heard, the U.S. military said.
Only 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, who claimed to be a friend of the pirates holding the four Americans.
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.
Macay's niece, Nina Crossland, spoke briefly to reporters in South San Francisco about her aunt. Crossland says the family has been working closely with the federal government since pirates captured the yacht on Friday.
She says it's still unclear why Macay and her three traveling companions were sailing in that area.
Crossland said she was told that the four had been traveling in a group of yachts but had left the group when the attack occurred.
Crossland said her aunt was a smart, experienced sailor. She described Macay as an adventurous woman but someone who always did her research.
The reported deaths is terrible news for friends of Riggle and Macay at the Seattle Singles Yacht.
Past commodore Joe Grande says Bob Riggle and Phyllis Macay were "Great sailors, good people. They were doing what they wanted to do, but that's small comfort in the face of this."
Grande says he last saw Riggle in September when he was "in country" -- his boat was in France -- and saw Macay some time last year. The two have been sailing and traveling around the world.
Club member Hank Curci said Riggle and Macay were carrying out a lifelong dream.
"Now that they're gone it's just difficult for us to accept because it's like having a family member killed," Curci said.
The Seattle Singles Yacht Club has about 150 members who take part in sailing and boating events.