Somali pirates kill 4 US citizens

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.

From Admiral Fox’s briefing:

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.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Paul says:

    The US is really stupid. We should have executed the pirates we took prisoner or said they were escaping. Now we have to drag them to a US court and give them 3 hots and cot for 50 years on the taxpayer $. Makes lots of sense guys…..sink a few mother ships and send some drones over there and the problem will end. Once again we have no guts to nip something in the bud. This whole issue is reallly a joke…..2011 and we have a bunch of punks in outboards causing havoc.

  • bard207 says:

    When the U.S., Europe, Canada, Australia etc send in forces to try to cleanup trouble spots in the Islamic world, they are often referred to negatively as Crusaders by Muslims.
    Somalia is a trouble spot with easy & open access (no overflight permission concerns) to those countries in the Islamic community that would like to band together and clean it up.
    Yet the Islamic world makes no attempt to assemble a coalition of Islamic military forces to put boots on the ground in Somalia and fix an obvious blight in their midst.
    From the OIC Charter
    …to contribute to international peace and security, understanding and dialogue
    among civilizations, cultures and religions and promote and encourage
    friendly relations and good neighbourliness, mutual respect and cooperation;
    …To ensure active participation of the Member States in the global political,
    economic and social decision-making processes to secure their common

    …To cooperate in combating terrorism in all its forms and manifestations,
    organised crime, illicit drug trafficking, corruption, money laundering and
    human trafficking;
    The Muslim world talks a Good Game (as shown in the OIC Charter), but totally disappears when they have a chance to show the international community that they have some backbone and will do what is needed in Somalia

  • Bob says:

    Back in the day, pirates were executed, immediately, when captured. If we were to go back to this policy it would reduce the number of pirates. As of now, there is no downside to their actions. Most nations simply take away their weapons and set them free. This has to stop. There needs to be serious consequences to the pirates for their actions or this will just continue to get worse.

  • blert says:

    It would be even easier to hit the ‘motherships.’
    In WWI the Royal Navy established Q ships to suck in the U-boats for destruction. They sailed un-escorted and made every attempt to feign vulnerability.
    The same gambit was the ultimate plot device in “Master and Commander.”
    Elsewhere these pirates were quoted as saying that they murdered the Americans upon learning of the 33-year slide the previous pirate had just received.
    That sure fits the time-line.
    The USN screwed up: radio frequencies should have been jammed.
    In the future the jihadis intend to slay all Americans out of hand.
    The word has to get out to all those at sea.
    As for prison terms for piracy: the plank is justice for them.

  • Paul says:

    This infuriates me! I think the blame for the deaths of these four Americans can be placed squarely on those who pay ransoms. Who is feeding this problem with multi-million dollar payouts? It’s shameful!
    Where can a person find more info on this piracy? Who has paid ransoms, which flagged ships have been taken, which currently are? Results of each, etc.
    Hopefully, with the death or capture of 19 thug pirates, from this one US flagged boat, our flag alone will provide a deterrent.

  • My2Cents says:

    Interesting, 2 pirates were already dead when US forces arrived on board, and apparently before any US shots were fired. Sounds like there was a conflict within the pirates on board the yacht. The question could be how did this lead to the death of the hostages?

  • Booble Bob says:

    I agree shooting a couple dozen uneducated teenage killers with no future in the middle of the Indian Ocean is satisfying on an immediate, visceral level. Talk about your personal accountability. Wow. Blamo. All the guys with guns, dead. And in the ocean, you don’t waste any time burying them, etc. BUT this does little to solve the problems on land that are providing an endless stream of human fodder with no greater prospects than a fight with sharks, or worse, the US Navy.

  • blert says:

    The two dead pirates were made so by the SEALS.

  • warlock says:

    Kill them all and you will have less pirates in the sea.

  • Sharpshot says:

    A different take on the event:
    The sailors of the SV Quest openly state on their website (// that:
    “Our Mission: To allow the power of the Word to transform lives.
    We seek fertile ground for the Word and homes for our Bibles…”
    This may have not sat well with one of the pirates, who may have been a die hard Islamist. Having a look around the ship, found evidence of spreading an “opposing faith”, thought screw the money, and flat out executed them.
    Another take would be as the two pirates were apparently already found dead, it may have been one wanted to execute them due to the religious materials, the other disagreed and said it was business and not to, which caused a split in opinion.
    I find it deeply ironic that one of the websites contributors

  • Infidel4LIFE says:

    the SEALS really showed restraint. Plus 1 was killed in a knife fight. That scene must have been horrible. 4 dead people up in age. That could have been anyone’s Mom or Dad..those guys are lucky to be alive. They don’t deserve to be.

  • Chris 'the likeable' says:

    RIP crew from the Quest. These pirates are willing to put themselves in peril as they have nothing else in their unremarkable and poor lives to do anything else. Lets face it who would want to live in their god forsaken lousy part of the world anyway. No Food, No water, No decent shelter, corrupt governments, religious leaders who are on a power trip. They clearly are better off dead.

  • James says:

    How might we solve the international piracy problem off the coast of Somalia?
    Answer: An internationally sanctioned and supported hostage rescue mission.
    This is basically the strategy that was used so successfully in Gulf War I.
    Why can’t our Special Ops train along side (for instance) Great Britian’s Special Ops (and other nations special ops) to effectuate such a strategy?
    I believe it can be executed if (for example) US and our NATO allies would put forth at least a good faith effort to do so.
    (Recall the public statement the pirate leader said immediately after the last time this happened: “The next time we get Americans we’ll kill them.”)
    Just my two cents on the matter.

  • paddy says:

    Destroy Somalia. Send a message to all nations who may be harboring pirates and other criminals. Think Somalia doesn’t deserve it? They allow strongholds on their cost for the pirates, and do nothing. Destroy Somalia, send a powerful message.

  • David says:

    I think it would have to be a monthly event, since
    the pirates would just keep coming, if you only
    did it once.
    I suggest an international blockade of Somalia’s ports,
    stops and searches anything going in or out, seizes
    anything that looks at all like a mother-ship, total
    discretion to the navies. Obviously doesn’t let
    in any captured ships, either. Would require the UN
    to authorize the international force as Somalia’s
    coast guard, but I don’t see why it isn’t possible.

  • blert says:

    Somalia is PRE-destroyed.
    The only tactic that can work is Q-ships and walking the plank.
    The pirates are easy to spot at sea. We can use drones.
    A quarantine zone needs to be established and maintained.
    No fishing in it. It’s a free fire zone.
    Only sanctioned, permitted vessels may cross it. All other floaters are sunk without notice — night or day.
    To repeat: the pirates are co-ordinated by AQ in the Arabian Peninsula. AQ gets a cut of all ransoms.
    These Christians were fingered at their last port of call. This was no random piracy.

  • Charu says:

    While i agree that the captured pirates ought to be summarily executed, and an international force sent to wipe out the pirate bases on land and their mother ships on the seas, it seems to be highly irresponsible for missionaries to sail in these waters. It was reported that they broke away from a convey of other yachts, presumably under some sort of naval protection, and wandered off by themselves into hostile waters. R.I.P.

  • Wendy says:

    The US State department has been warning US citizens against traveling to somalia and the Horn of Africa for the past 2-3 yrs. At some point personal responsibility has to come into play.
    State Department: ” Don’t go there, its dangerous, you may get killed, its not safe, we don’t have an embassy there. Americas are being kidnapped and killed in Somalia, if yougo we can’t help you ”
    4 US citizens: We don’t care, we’re going anyway.
    Why cause US navy personel to go to Somalia, many of which will be killed, because 4 assholes didn’t follow the US state departments recommendations and now they’ve gotten their asses killed.
    US citizens should stay the hell out of Somalia and follow the US State Departments recommendations.

  • Batman says:

    I have not seen any sort of information linking the pirates to Al-Qaeda or Muslim extremists/terrorists, in fact I recall initially Al Shabaa spoke of destroying the pirates as they did not care for them either. Has this changed? I would be interested in reading anything you have concerning terrorist ties and or kickbacks involving the pirates.

  • Sharpshot says:

    For those calling for executions, blockades/hostage rescues/Q-ship tactics, take a step back for a minute. These are not solving the problem at the source.
    Blert, the u-boat similarity when we used Q-ships is invalid. It was a desperate time for Britain, and we had no other way of sinking them except ramming. They were sinking some 15x the amount of ships for each uboat loss. We had to lure them out with a rubbish old looking boat, that looked neutral. Hence they would rise and use the cannon vs torpedoes to save them for “more dangerous” ships, when they were certainty they were allied.
    If our sea lanes were starved, so were our supplies and economy. (Both in loss of shipstrade). Our country was at risk, europe was at risk, and we were in a world war.
    This has nothing to do with piracy that we see today. The piracy of Somalia is more of a pain in the ass to global trade, then an actual threat of toppling a country. (Egypt may be hurting because of the Suez Canal revenue, especially now with the loss of tourism)
    Blert/David, how do you plan on “quarantining” 3000km+ length of coast line? Even by the remote chance you could, you are gifting extremists with propaganda. By killing them, again you are gifting them with propaganda. Driving from the some couple thousand pirates currently operating to a much bigger beast.
    James, hostage rescues are bad for politics, especially on water where the surprise factor is much harder to accomplish, and therefore the mission. Hence the preferred option of negotiating. One hostage killed is too many, it leads to the family going on the news grieving, then a statement from the gov has to be made, inquiry, etc etc etc. With respect, a pain in the ass.
    As for why special forces aren’t used, this should be straightforward. We have commitments elsewhere on the globe, private security companies can fill this void at the cost of the shipping line.
    As Charu, and Wendy stated, don’t go looking for trouble. Shipping companies are being as responsible as they can, doing all they can to avoid the trouble, why should civilians not do the same?
    This debate has been discussed at length already, by people who know much more about the piracy situation then I.
    However, what is clear, and as I stated before, until their is a stable economy (aka stable government), piracy will never stop. It is a major source of income now, and has become a sophisticated operation, and more and more want in on it. Even some big boys, its a very lucrative return on investment.
    With your average Somalian not being any more then 20, hoping on a boat and pointing a gun at someone to get paid, doesn’t seem like such a bad job, considering the circumstances.
    Incidentally, very similar to the “Heres $50 to go plant an IED”, that we see in the Mid-east.

  • James says:

    “James, hostage rescues are bad for politics, especially on water where the surprise factor is much harder to accomplish, and therefore the mission. Hence the preferred option of negotiating. One hostage killed is too many, it leads to the family going on the news grieving, then a statement from the gov has to be made, inquiry, etc etc etc. With respect, a pain in the ass.”
    Sharpshot, with all due respects to your comments, you may have misintrepreted my statements. When I say rescue mission, I’m referring to getting all the hostages out where they’re being held on land.
    Obviously, this would involve our having to deploy special forces not just from our military but also most likely at least several other nations.
    Of course, such a strategy may take years to bring about. In the meantime, what are the other options?
    I vehemently oppose your idea of “negotiating.” By negotiating with these thugs, all you do is encourage similar conduct (or worse) from them (and maybe even others).
    I agree with Wendy’s assertions for the most part. Maybe what we ought to consider doing is detaining those travelers. Not only do they foolishly put themselves in harms way, but by doing so, they also put our military at risk.
    Maybe throw them in the brig and put them under what we’ll call “protective detention.”
    You can’t fly a private plane over protected air space above La Guardia International Airport unannounced and without prior clearance. The same logic could apply to certain areas of the ocean off the coast of Somalia.
    To keep the international law attorneys at bay, it may be wise to get congressional approval and a UN resolution authorizing the above.
    Just my two cents on the matter.
    Seriously, if we could orchestrate and execute an internationally sponsored rescue mission, I say on their way out, use the hostages as “lures.” That way, they could permanently eliminate as many of the pirate SOBS as possible.
    It would be our version of “Blackhawk Down” to them.
    Believe me, that would send a message.
    Guarantee you one thing, the world won’t have another pirate problem for at least another 100 years.

  • James says:

    To anyone interested, here’s an interesting article on the problem of piracy and what might be done to deal counter it:
    Piracy as well as terrorism are international problems and are going to mandate international resolve in countering them.

  • Sharpshot says:

    Whilst your enthusiasm is clear, you have to understand the risk and repercussions, and not make decisions based on emotion. This will also be my last post on this topic.
    Water/Land is pretty much the same in regards to Somalia. Once they get onto land, you can pretty much write them off. They can be holed up deep inland, the terrain is flat for 200+km across most of the east coast, helicopters make noise, and noise travels well on flat terrain.
    All this adds up to no element of surprise, very bad for rescuing hostages. More often then not, held in separate locations. The odds are staked against you, which are not unusual. However in this case, it pushes the risk well past the chance of success. We only storm the ship when we are confident the pirates will not mass execute, or if they will and/or the value/nature of the cargo.
    A 20 year old Somalian tends to put his hands up rather quickly, they know how to play this game. Don’t fire a shot, throw your weapon over the side and you will be back home in no time, minus your skiff. $5 to 10k later, you are back in business and getting millions of dollars in return within a year or two, living the life of a king, in Somalia.
    Whilst you may “vehemently oppose” my idea of negotiating, you have to understand it is a commercial decision. A boat that can carry $100m of crude on board looses a considerable amount of money everyday it is held, right in the ship owners pocket, so they will pay. That is why it is also unusual to hijack a civilian boat, it is the boat and/or its cargo that puts the price on the hostage.
    Also note, it is commercial ships that usually get pirated, not civilian. This was one of those unfortunate “one off” situations, completely outside the norm. Hence the great deal of speculation surrounding it.
    Your relation to a movie, “Blackhawk Down”, is interesting. The question rather is: Do we want another version of “Blackhawk Down”?
    Do you remember the political fallout of that event, more properly known as the Battle of Mogadishu of 1993? A hostage killed is unfortunate, loosing an entire team and/or a heli is a much more complex task to handle politically. With a dire world economy, I don

  • James says:

    Sharpshot, thank you for your comments.
    I will try my best to at least respond to your last paragraph above when I get a chance.
    For another interesting article on international piracy and at least some good suggestions on how maybe we ought to be responding to it, go here:
    Sad to say though, I don’t anticipate any of the above suggestions ever materializing with the current regime in power in DC.

  • James says:

    “Lastly, let me understand you correctly: Are you suggesting that we should be holding US citizens, without charge, on a US navy boat, under the pretext of “protective detention”?”
    Sharpshot, yes, that is exactly what I’m saying. You should notice that I’m NOT saying that they be accused of any crime(s).
    Also, those are international waters or at the very least Somali coastal waters hence they are “beyond the jurisdiction” of the US (and hence, beyond [at least most] rights accorded under the US Constitution I submit.
    “Are you also suggesting we use hostages as bait? With respect, I strongly disagree with your suggestions.”
    Sharpshot, with all due respect to your positions, we (and the rest of the world) can not just keep “pussy-footing” around with those pirates. What ever response we give the message has to made loud and clear to the pirates that their risks in the future will far outweigh any hoped for benefits to be gotten in taking innocent civilian hostages.

  • Sharpshot says:

    The navies are patrolling for the commercial ships, the main traffic passing through those waters. The ship owners would rather the government take the cost on instead of themselves, as the risk is so low. Not only that, it is the governments economies feeling it in the pocket, much more then the ship owner. I’ll explain.
    The solution is simple: All the shipping lines should carry armed contractors; some already do, and are allowed to.
    However, let us look at the math for a large tanker company, with rough and ready numbers, operating VLCCs:
    A VLCC costs $120m new.
    Assume the VLCC costs $40,000 a day to charter.
    Assume 50% of the charter is the cost: $20,000.
    Assume net profit/day is therefore $20,000
    Assume it is $5,000 for five contractors to defend it at $1,000 each a day.
    Assume the boat spends 35 days per year in the safety of a port.
    Assume this is a large tanker firm with 50 VLCC tankers.
    Assume 5% of their fleet is pirated every year, 3 VLCCs.
    Assume the average time to the release of a pirated ship is 150 days, and give the boat 30 days to be back in business: 180 days
    Assume the boat is fully utilised minus the 180 days.
    Assume no major maintenance was needed after release.
    Assume the cost of the insurance/war time risk/crew/fuel is covered in the cost of the charter (within the 50%)
    Cost of security:
    5000 x (365-35) =

  • David says:

    Actually, I wasn’t proposing killing anyone. I was
    proposing a stop and search for anything that looked
    like a mothership, and confiscating ships that were
    suspicious, with discretion to the naval officer on scene. This would be extralegal without some
    sort of UN resolution, so we’d probably need that,
    but I think we can get it. Anything that is carrying
    motor launches, weapons, etc, is confiscated. Any
    captured ship is not allowed back to port.
    I am not a naval expert, but I think it would be
    hard for the Somalis to maintain ocean-going motherships on a stretch of coastline that is not
    a natural port. And the mothership has to return to where it can receive supplies, so any old point on the coastline won’t do. Therefore, I don’t think that you would have to monitor the entire Somali coastline. Furthermore, 3000 km sounds a bit high for the length of the Somali coastline. The length looks like about 800 km as the crow flies, and not all of that is pirate infested. With lots of UAV coverage, I think you would actually make the navy’s job easier, as right now they are trying to cover a much larger stretch of ocean, to catch the pirates in the act.

  • James says:

    @ Sharpshot
    Thanks again for your very insightful response.
    I guess it only goes to verify the old adage that:
    “Money walks while B_S_ just talks.”
    It should also serve to verify the lesson learned (or that which should have been learned) from Vietnam that you can not run a war like you run a corporation (nor should you allow corporations to run it); because if/when you do surely you will lose.

  • Sharpshot says:

    The coast line is 3,025km according to As the crow flies is not an accurate way of measuring a coast line.
    In other news: Chief pirate negotiator of the SV Quest for the pirates, Mohammad Saaili Shibin, captured and indicted:
    This adds to the 14 others captured and indicted last month.


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