The yachting community world wide has been horrified and appalled by the shooting of four cruising sailors in the Indian Ocean this week, see Sail-World story?nid=80619. It has taken the dangers for cruising sailors crossing the Indian Ocean to a new level, and, according to TTT Rally leader, Rene Tiemessen, whose rally had been turned down for an escort, there are still around 100 yachts attempting the crossing. 'It's not over yet,' he commented by satellite to me after the tragedy.
In the meantime, the Blue Water Rally, with whom the four had been travelling since leaving Australia until they left the Rally on 15th February, have also expressed their condolences, saying that they were 'stunned and devastated' by the tragic turn of events.
They also gave justification for sailors choosing to sail across the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea instead of other options, with the statement: 'Although yachtsmen have been discouraged from sailing through this area for some time, it is a hard decision when the only other choices are to sail around the stormy, dangerous seas off South Africa, leave the yacht in the Far East, put it on an expensive cargo ship, or to sail back across the Pacific which presents more weather challenges and difficulties. When one has set one's heart on a circumnavigation, these choices are very difficult to make.'
Circumstances are still unclear as to exactly what happened in the tragedy that ended in the deaths of Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle of Seattle and Jean and Scott Adam of Orange County.
Four US warships, the USS Enterprise, the guided-missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf, the guided-missile destroyer USS Bulkeley and the USS Sterett, were tailing the 58-foot sloop Quest as the pirates raced for the Somali coast.
It appears that some kind of division might have occurred among the pirates, as two of their number were on board the USS Sterett, and had spent the night there. They were in radio contact with the pirates when they heard gunfire coming from the Quest, which was a mere 600 metres away, about 8.00am local time. According to naval personnel interviewed later it is unclear whether the cruisers were making an escape attempt or not.
As Navy SEALs sped to the yacht, a pirate fired a rocket-propelled grenade toward the Sterret that missed, while others crowded onto the deck of the yacht with their hands raised in surrender. The SEALs then boarded the Quest, finding two pirates already lying dead. They then killed one other pirate with a knife, fatally shot another and captured 13 more. They also found the cruisers shot fatally, unable to be saved despite emergency treatment.
Following the tragedy there have been multiple statements coming from Somali piracy representatives, sometimes at odds with the account from the US Navy.
Two pirates bragged that they ordered the executions. 'Our colleagues called us this morning, that they were being attacked by a US warship,' one of them, identified only as Mohamud, told Reuters. 'We ordered our comrades to kill the four Americans before they got killed.'
Killing hostages 'has now become part of our rules,' said another pirate who identified himself as Muse Abdi. He referred as a turning point to last week's sentencing of a pirate to 33 years in prison for the 2009 attack on the U.S. cargo vessel the Maersk Alabama. The sentencing had occurred just two days before the hijacking.
'From now on, anyone who tries to rescue the hostages in our hands will only collect dead bodies,' Abdi said. 'It will never, ever happen that hostages are rescued and we are hauled to prison.'
Yet another member of the Somali pirate group involved in the killing of the sailors said that they only killed the hostages because the US military started firing at them.
'We had no intention of killing the hostages until the Americans began shooting at us,' Liban Muse told the Los Angeles Times.
'Our preference is only to take ships and ransom money, not to kill. But governments are targeting and killing our people.'
It will be a long time before the exact picture becomes clear, but tragically that will mean nothing to the four cruising sailors, for whom the cruising community can do nothing, now, but mourn.