The four Americans aboard a yacht hijacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia are dead.U.S. Central Command report:
Hijacked by Somali last Friday off Oman, the Quest was being piloted toward the Somali coast - and was being shadowed by a U.S. Navy warship.
CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reports that gunshots aboard the yacht were heard, and the warship took action.
All four Americans were dead, killed apparently by their captors. There were more than a dozen pirates on board, some dead and others captured, Martin reports
At approximately 1 a.m. EST today, while negotiations were ongoing to secure the release of four American hostages, U.S. forces responded to gunfire aboard the pirated vessel (S/V) Quest. As they responded to the gunfire, reaching and boarding the Quest, the forces discovered all four hostages had been shot by their captors. Despite immediate steps to provide life-saving care, all four hostages ultimately died of their wounds.Piracy and murder trials will surely follow.
“We express our deepest condolences for the innocent lives callously lost aboard the Quest,” said Gen James N. Mattis, U.S. Central Command Commander.
During the boarding of the Quest, the reaction force was engaged by pirates on board the vessel. Two pirates died during the confrontation and 13 were captured and detained along with two pirates already in US Forces custody. The US Forces also found the remains of two other pirates already dead aboard the Quest. In total, it is believed 19 pirates were involved in the hijacking of the S/V Quest.
USS Leyte Gulf
US Forces have been closely monitoring the S/V Quest for approximately 3 days, once it became known to be pirated. Four U.S. Navy warships comprised the response force dedicated to recovering the S/V Quest: the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65), the guided-missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf (CG 55), the guided-missile destroyers USS Sterett (DDG 104) and USS Bulkeley (DDG 84). The ships are deployed to the region to conduct maritime security operations and to provide support to operations Enduring Freedom and New Dawn.
UPDATE2: More info from a press brief by Admiral Fox:
Vice Admiral Mark Fox, commander of the U.S. Navy 5th Fleet, told reporters at the Pentagon by telephone from Bahrain that the boarding party was U.S. special operations forces and they met no resistance at first. However, during the search of the vessel they killed two pirates, one in a knife fight and the other by gunshot, and they found two others already dead.A knife fight? Transcript of VADM Fox comments here. You can download the audio here.
Fox said the pirates are in Navy custody and the plan is to bring them “to a judicial process and hold them accountable for their activities.”
The Navy has been tracking the pirated yacht since Feb. 18, when it was spotted by a Royal Danish Navy ship off the coast of Oman, Fox said. “We have seen a growing problem here in terms of the pirate activity off the coast of Somalia,” Fox said.
UPDATE: What law may apply?
It may depend on exactly where the deaths occurred. If in international waters, then international law of the sea (and the treaties, etc that compose that) may apply. While the United States is not a party to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, it is a signatory to the predecessor to that Convention - the 1958 Convention on the Law of the Sea. Article 15 of the 1958 Convention reads:
Article 15Under U.S. law, piracy is punishable by life imprisonment.
Piracy consists of any of the following acts:
(1) Any illegal acts of violence, detention or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed:
(a) On the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft;
(b) Against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State;
(2) Any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or aircraft;
(3) Any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described in subparagraph 1 or subparagraph 2 of this article.
Murder, on the other hand, may be punishable by death.
It may depend on whether or not the boat was U.S. flagged. If it was U.S. flagged, U.S. law will apply. The FBI says
When a crime does occur at sea, several factors determine whether the U.S. has legal jurisdiction. A complicated weave of international law applies, but as a rule, the FBI leads investigations of the following scenarios:UPDATE3: Looks like the FBI is involved.
If the ship is U.S.-owned, regardless of the nationality of the victim or perpetrator;***If it's an act of terrorism against the U.S.
There is a nice bit of legislation that may apply, US Code, Title 18, Ch. 111, Sec. 2280:
Of course, some would rather see these pirates hanging from yardarms after a brief trial at sea.
§ 2280. Violence against maritime navigation(a) Offenses.—(b) Jurisdiction.— There is jurisdiction over the activity prohibited in subsection (a)—
(1) In general.— A person who unlawfully and intentionally—
(A) seizes or exercises control over a ship by force or threat thereof or any other form of intimidation;(B) performs an act of violence against a person on board a ship if that act is likely to endanger the safe navigation of that ship;(C) destroys a ship or causes damage to a ship or to its cargo which is likely to endanger the safe navigation of that ship;(D) places or causes to be placed on a ship, by any means whatsoever, a device or substance which is likely to destroy that ship, or cause damage to that ship or its cargo which endangers or is likely to endanger the safe navigation of that ship;(E) destroys or seriously damages maritime navigational facilities or seriously interferes with their operation, if such act is likely to endanger the safe navigation of a ship;(F) communicates information, knowing the information to be false and under circumstances in which such information may reasonably be believed, thereby endangering the safe navigation of a ship;(G) injures or kills any person in connection with the commission or the attempted commission of any of the offenses set forth in subparagraphs (A) through (F); orshall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both; and if the death of any person results from conduct prohibited by this paragraph, shall be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life.(2) Threat to navigation.— A person who threatens to do any act prohibited under paragraph (1)(B), (C) or (E), with apparent determination and will to carry the threat into execution, if the threatened act is likely to endanger the safe navigation of the ship in question, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.
(1) in the case of a covered ship, if—
(A) such activity is committed—
(i) against or on board a ship flying the flag of the United States at the time the prohibited activity is committed;(B) during the commission of such activity, a national of the United States is seized, threatened, injured or killed; or(2) in the case of a ship navigating or scheduled to navigate solely within the territorial sea or internal waters of a country other than the United States, if the offender is later found in the United States after such activity is committed; and(3) in the case of any vessel, if such activity is committed in an attempt to compel the United States to do or abstain from doing any act.(emphasis added)
Our ancestors had their own techniques for dealing with murder at sea:
In England in the 13th century it was enacted that anybody who committed murder on the king's ships would be tied to their victims body and thrown into the sea to drown.Of course, we live in the 21st century. I'll bet some government lawyers are working overtime on this.
UPDATE4: Naturally, there are reports that it was all started by the U.S.. This report should be judged on the basis of the veracity of some unknown pirate accomplice who has no reason to portray the incident in any light unfavorable to his companions. Even if true, the U.S. did not pirate the boat and was not holding 4 people hostages. The U.S. would have been within its rights to kill all the pirates as they came into sight.
Remember that these pirates, who now range across the Indian Ocean, claim justification for their acts because of illegal fishing and dumping in Somali waters, neither of which the 4 Americans were involved with.