While the sailing community will remain sad and scarred by the deaths of four American cruising sailors at the hands of Somali pirates for some time to come, one chapter in the tragic tale appears to be nearing its end.
Tragic ending - Quest under sail in the South Pacific, earlier in their ill-fated voyage
Five Somali men have pleaded guilty to charges of piracy and hostage taking of the yacht Quest off the coast of Oman in February in a hijacking that left the four Americans dead..
By pleading guilty, the first pirate Mohamud Hirs Issa Ali could now see his sentence reduced, as the charges carry the potential for a death penalty. Though he now faces life behind bars, he could see a reduction in that sentence for admitting his role in the killings.
'He avoids death with the plea,' his lawyer Jon Babineau told AFP. Following his plea four others have now pleaded guilty, probably for the same reasons.
The owners of the yacht Quest, Californian cruising sailors Jean and Scott Adam were sailing around the world at the time of last February's hijacking as part of the Blue Water Rally, the organisers of which have now ceased business. At the time of the hijacking they were said by rally organisers to have left the rally, although this has been fiercely denied by friends and supporters of the Adams. Along with their crew members Bob Riggle and Phyllis Macay from Seattle, Washington, they were shot to death unexpectedly several days after being taken hostage, even as negotiations were taking place with US Navy officials.
According to US officials, US service members, who had been trailing the yacht during the hostage drama, boarded the vessel after hearing gunshots and discovered the Americans' bodies.
Accused Somali pirate Mohammad Saaili Shibin, said to have been the chief negotiator in the hijacking, was indicted on charges related to the killings earlier this year.
The US military said it had undertaken negotiations, led by Shibin, to secure the release of the hostages at the time the pirates fatally shot their captives.
At the time of their arrest, the pirates were said to have been in possession of heavy weaponry, including a grenade launcher and several assault rifles.
The men are among 15 people -- 14 from Somalia and one from Yemen -- arrested after the attack for their roles in the kidnapping and killings. Other pirates are expected to plead guilty in the coming days.
IMO: Piracy still on the increase:
Piracy is still dramatically increasing round the world.
The number of acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships reported to the International Maritime Organization(IMO) and which occurred in 2010 was 489, against 406 during the previous year, an increase of 20.4% from the figure for 2009.
The areas most affected (i.e. five incidents reported or more) in 2010 were East Africa and the Indian Ocean followed by the Far East and, in particular, the South China Sea, West Africa, South America and the Caribbean.
During the year, it was reported that two crew members were killed and 30 crew members were reportedly injured/assaulted, while 1,027 crew members were reportedly taken hostage or kidnapped.
Fifty-seven vessels were reportedly hijacked, with one vessel reportedly still unaccounted for.
However, in the first four months of 2011, 214 incidents were reported to the Organization.
The IMO has also approved an 'Interim Guidance' on the use of privately contracted armed security personnel on board ships transiting the high-risk piracy area off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden and the wider Indian Ocean after meeting at the Organization’s London Headquarters for its 89th session from May 11-20, 2011.