WASHINGTON, Feb. 22, 2011 — Somali pirates killed all four Americans they had held hostage aboard a sailing vessel in the Indian Ocean this morning, U.S. Central Command officials announced.
U.S. officials were negotiating with the pirates for the safe return of the captured Americans when the murders took place, officials said.
Centcom officials said that in the midst of negotiations, U.S. forces responded to gunfire aboard the S/V Quest. When the forces reached the boat, officials said, they discovered all four hostages had been shot by their captors. Despite immediate steps to provide life-saving care, all four hostages ultimately died of their wounds.
During the boarding, the Somali pirates fired on the U.S. forces, who killed two pirates and captured 13 others. U.S. forces already had captured two other pirates, and the servicemembers boarding the Quest found the remains of two other pirates.
“In total, it is believed 19 pirates were involved in the hijacking of the S/V Quest,” Centcom officials said.
“We express our deepest condolences for the innocent lives callously lost aboard the Quest,” said Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis, Centcom’s commander.
The pirates seized the boat Feb. 18 off the coast of Oman. Somali pirates -– often operating from mother ships far out to sea — have captured scores of ships and generally have held the ships and crews for ransom. News reports indicate Somali pirates currently hold 29 ships with more than 660 hostages.
Piracy in the region occurred originally off of Somalia’s east coast for several years. In August 2009, the pirates extended their attacks to the Gulf of Aden, between Yemen and Somalia’s north coast. The pirates since have ranged farther out to sea -– up to 600 miles –- and now affect more than a million square miles in the Gulf of Aden, the west Indian Ocean and the Red Sea.
The United States has worked closely with regional and international partners to attack the problem. In this case, American forces closely monitored and tailed the Quest. Four U.S. Navy warships made up a response force dedicated to recovering the S/V Quest: the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, the guided-missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf, the guided-missile destroyers USS Sterett and USS Bulkeley.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)