NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) - Three Norfolk-based Navy ships were among those monitoring the pirated vessel S/V Quest off East Africa for the past three days, and who responded Tuesday when gunfire erupted on the ship.
Four Americans onboard the Quest were killed by their Somali captors Tuesday. The Quest was the home of Jean and Scott Adam, a couple from California who had been sailing around the world since December 2004. The two other Americans on board were Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle, of Seattle, Washington. Pirates seized the boat Feb. 18.
According to Navy Vice Adm. Mark I. Fox, commander of the U.S. Naval Central Command and U.S. 5th Fleet, pirates captured the Quest about 190 nautical miles southeast of Masirah Island, Oman. Four U.S. Navy warships responded: the Norfolk-based aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65), guided-missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf (CG 55), and guided-missile destroyer USS Bulkeley (DDG 84), along with the San Diego-based guided-missile destroyer USS Sterett (DDG 104).
The ships found the Quest and made contact with the pirates via bridge-to-bridge radio, and began a series of negotiations. Monday, two pirates boarded the USS Sterett to continue negotiations.
"At 8 this morning local time, a rocket-propelled grenade was fired from the Quest by the pirates towards the Sterett," Fox said. "The Sterett was approximately 600 yards away from the Quest.
"Immediately thereafter, gunfire erupted from inside the cabin of the Quest. Several pirates appeared on the deck of the Quest and moved up to the bow with their hands in the air in surrender."
U.S. special operations forces closed in on the Quest in small boats and boarded the yacht. "They discovered that all four hostages had been shot by their captors," Fox said. The service members took immediate steps to provide medical care, but the four Americans died of their wounds. The boarding party also found two dead pirates aboard the vessel.
The special operations forces did not fire weapons during the boarding, Fox said.
"While clearing the vessel, two additional pirates were killed," the admiral said. "The remaining 15 suspected pirates are in U.S. custody." WAVY News 10 has learned the detained pirates are being held aboard the USS Enterprise.
Fox said of the pirates killed as the special operators cleared the boat, one was killed with a pistol, the other in a knife fight. Two other pirates, already dead, were also found on board - bringing the total number of hijackers on the Quest to nineteen. There were no casualties to service members or damage to Navy ships. The Navy and the FBI are investigating the incident.
Fox said the perpetrators will be brought to justice.
"We express our deepest condolences for the innocent lives callously lost aboard the Quest," said Gen James N. Mattis, U.S. Central Command Commander.
The four Navy ships are deployed to the region to conduct maritime security operations and to provide support to operations Enduring Freedom and New Dawn.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Air Force One that President Barack Obama authorized the use of force if there was an imminent threat to the hostages. He said the president was informed of their deaths at 4:42 Tuesday morning.
Jim Garamone, American Forces Press Service, contributed to this report.
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