NAIROBI, Kenya // The United States government yesterday said it was assessing possible responses after Somali pirates hijacked a yacht with four Americans on board in the Arabian sea off the coast of Somalia.
Pirates hijacked the yacht Quest on Friday, two days after a Somali pirate was sentenced to 33 years in prison by a New York court for the 2009 hijacking of the Maersk Alabama. That case ended in a spectacular rescue when navy sharpshooters killed two pirates holding the ship's captain, Richard Phillips.
The Quest is the home of Jean and Scott Adam, a couple who has been sailing around the world since December 2004, according to a website the Adams keep.
A US military spokesman at Central Command in Florida said: "We're aware of the situation and we continue to monitor it."
Matt Goshko, a spokesman at the US Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, which oversees Somalia, said preliminary reports indicated there were four US citizens aboard the Quest.
"All relevant US agencies are monitoring the situation, working to develop further information, assess options and possible responses," Goshko said.
Pirates have increased attacks off the coast of East Africa in recent years despite an international flotilla of warships dedicated to protecting vessels and stopping the pirate attacks.
Multimillion-dollar ransoms are fuelling the trade, and the prices for releasing a ship and hostages have risen sharply. One ransom last year was reported to be US$9.5 million (Dh34.8m). Pirates currently hold 30 ships and more than 660 hostages, not counting the attack against the Quest.
After the Maersk Alabama was hijacked in April 2009, navy sharpshooters on the fantail of the USS Bainbridge fired on pirates holding Capt Phillips, killing two of them. The only pirate to survive that US rescue was Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse, who was sentenced to 33 years in prison this week.
The best known case of westerners being held hostage in Somalia was that of Paul and Rachel Chandler, a British couple held for 388 days. The two, who were captured while sailing in their private yacht, were released in November.
US officials will probably try to prevent the Adams' yacht from reaching Somalia, where their options to rescue the Americans become more limited.
The Adams' website chronicles the couple's travels over the past seven years, from El Salvador and Panama in 2005 to Fiji in 2007 and Singapore and Cambodia last year. They most recently sailed from Thailand to Sri Lanka and India. Their website said they were on their way to Oman when they were taken. Djibouti - the tiny East African country directly north of Somalia - had been next on their list. A satellite tracking system the couple uses showed them docked in Mumbai, India, on February 1.
"Djibouti is a big refuelling stop. I have no idea what will happen in these ports, but perhaps we'll do some local touring," the couple's website says.
The couple runs a Bible ministry, according to their website.