Four hostages on board a yacht hijacked by pirates last week were killed by their captors, US Central Command said in a statement Tuesday. The vessel, named the Quest, was being shadowed by the military after being captured by pirates off the coast of Oman on Friday. Officials had said earlier Tuesday it was less than two days from the Somali coast.
Americans Jean and Scott Adam -- the owners of the ship -- and Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle, had been traveling with yachts participating in the Blue Water Rally since their departure from Phuket, Thailand, rally organizers said Sunday in a statement on the event's website. The group, which organizes long-distance group cruises, said the Quest broke off on February 15 after leaving Mumbai, India, to take a different route.
As negotiations were ongoing with the pirates for the hostages' release, gunfire was heard at about 1am ET Tuesday, US Central Command said.
"As (US forces) responded to the gunfire, reaching and boarding the Quest, the forces discovered all four hostages had been shot by their captors," the statement said. "Despite immediate steps to provide life-saving care, all four hostages ultimately died of their wounds."
The pirates engaged the US forces on board, officials said. Two pirates were killed in the skirmish and 13 were captured and detained. Two others were already in US forces custody, the statement said, and the remains of two pirates were found on board. "In total, it is believed 19 pirates were involved in the hijacking" of the vessel, Central Command said.
Forces had been monitoring the Quest for three days, officials said. Four US Navy warships were involved in the response force -- an aircraft carrier, a guided-missile cruiser and two guided-missile destroyers, according to the statement.
Piracy has flourished off the coast of Somalia, which has not had an effective government for two decades. In April 2009, pirates seized the US-flagged Maersk Alabama, leading to a standoff in the Indian Ocean.
US forces moved to rescue American Capt. Richard Phillips after seeing a pirate aiming a weapon on his back, officials said at the time. Three pirates were killed and one was arrested. The Somali man arrested was convicted of acts related to high-seas piracy and was sentenced last week in New York to more than 30 years in prison by a federal court.
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