Four Americans taken hostage by Somali pirates off East Africa were shot and killed by their captors Tuesday, the U.S. military said, marking the first time U.S. citizens have been killed in a wave of pirate attacks plaguing the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean for years.
A San Diego-based destroyer, USS Sterett, was fired upon in the confrontation that ultimately ended with the Orange County couple's death.
The U.S. Central Command says negotiations had been underway Tuesday to try to win release of the two couples on the pirated vessel Quest.
U.S. naval forces, who were trailing the Americans' captured yacht with four warships, quickly boarded the vessel after hearing the gunfire and tried to provide lifesaving care to the Americans, but they died of their wounds, the U.S. Central Command said in a statement from Tampa, Fla.
Two pirates died during the confrontation and 13 were captured and detained, the U.S. Central Command said. The remains of two other pirates who were already dead for some time were also found. The U.S. military didn't state how those two might have died.
A member of a U.S. special operations force killed one of the pirates with a knife as he went inside of the yacht, said Vice Adm. Mark Fox, commander of U.S. naval forces for Central Command.
Fox said in a televised briefing that the violence on Tuesday started when a rocket-propelled grenade was fired from the yacht at USS Sterett, a guided-missile destroyer 600 yards (meters) away. The RPG missed and almost immediately afterward small arms fire was heard coming from the yacht, Fox said.
Only minutes before the military said the four Americans had died, a Somali pirate told The Associated Press by phone that if the yacht was attacked, "the hostages will be the first to go."
Organizers of the Blue Water Rally yacht race said passengers of the sailboat owned by Scott Adam and his wife, Jean, carried them and two other Americans, Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle, both of Seattle. It was hijacked Friday off the coast of Oman.
A friend and former professor of Scott Adam said Sunday that Adam wanted to combine his love of adventure with his faith by spreading bibles around the world.
Professor Robert K. Johnston of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena told The Associated Press that Adam who last year earned a master of theology degree from the school had sent friends emails detailing his international sailing trip. But Adam went silent Feb. 12 to avoid revealing the location of his yacht, the Quest, to pirates.
"He was sailing around the world and serving God, two of his passions," Johnston said.
Johnston said that despite an adventurous spirit, the Adams were meticulous planners who knew the dangers they faced. The couple had sailed with a large flotilla to stay safe from pirates near Thailand earlier in the trip.
Adam, in his mid-60s, had been an associate producer in Hollywood when he turned in a spiritual direction and enrolled in the seminary a decade ago, Johnston said.
"He decided he could take his pension, and he wanted to serve God and humankind," he said.
Johnston and Adam worked together to start a film and theology institute. Adam also taught a class on church and media at the school.
Since 2004, the Adams lived on their yacht in Marina Del Rey for about half the year and the rest of the year they sailed around the world, often distributing Bibles in remote parts of the Fiji Islands, Alaska, New Zealand, Central America and French Polynesia, Johnston said.