Earlier today, Somali pirates murdered four US citizens who were being held hostage as negotiations for their release were underway. Vice Admiral Mark Fox, the commander of Central Command’s naval forces, briefed the media on what is currently known about the murders.
The Somali pirates executed the four US civilians after opening fire on a nearby US warship with a rocket-propelled grenade. The naval task force then dispatched special operations teams using small boats (the special operators were without a doubt SEALs). Once aboard, the special operations forces discovered that the four Americans had been shot dead; they also found two dead pirates. Two other pirates were killed as the team cleared the yacht; one of the pirates was killed in a close-quarters knife fight. Thirteen pirates on the yacht surrendered as the special operations team boarded the yacht. Two other pirates, who were aboard a US warship to negotiate the Americans’ release, are also in custody.
On Friday, February 18th, at about 4 p.m. local time, the Royal Danish Navy Ship Esbern Snare reported to the 5th Fleet Maritime Operations Center that its helicopter had identified a U.S.-flagged, privately owned yacht that may have been pirated. The Sailing Vessel Quest was approximately 190 nautical miles southeast of Masirah Island, Oman, when it was pirated.
The commander of the U.S. Central Command directed for forces, predominantly U.S. Navy ships and aircraft operating in the 5th Fleet area of operations, to investigate the scene. Four U.S. Navy warships responded to the effort to recover the yacht: USS Enterprise, an aircraft carrier; Guided Missile Cruiser Leyte Gulf; and Guided Missile Destroyers Sterett and Buckley.
The U.S. Navy warships found and shadowed the Quest, made contact with the pirates via bridge-to-bridge contact, talked to the ship’s master and verified the status of the hostages, that were safe at the time, and began a series of negotiations. On Monday, February 21st, two pirates boarded USS Sterett to continue negotiations, and they remained onboard Sterett overnight.
At 8 this morning local time, a rocket-propelled grenade was fired from the Quest by the pirates towards the Sterett. The Sterett was approximately 600 yards away from the Quest.
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, the U.S. sailors discovered that all four hostages had been shot by their captors.
Despite immediate steps to provide life-saving care, all four of the American hostages died of their wounds.
The U.S. sailors also found two pirates already dead on board. While clearing the vessel, two additional pirates were killed. The remaining 15 suspected pirates are in U.S. custody.
Within the past two years, the international community has stepped up patrols along the coast of Somalia, but the Somali pirates have responded by expanding operations using “motherships.” So far, however, the international community has refused to hit the pirates where it would hurt them most: in their strongholds along the Somali coast.
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