Somali Pirates Seize American Yacht

The ongoing saga of piracy off the coast of Somali is about to get Americans' attention again, as a yacht containing four U.S. citizens has been hijacked.

The ongoing saga of piracy off the coast of Somali is about to get Americans’ attention again, as a yacht containing four U.S. citizens has been hijacked.

CNN (“Somali pirates seize yacht with four Americans onboard“):

Somali pirates hijacked a yacht with four Americans onboard in the Indian Ocean, U.S. military officials said Saturday.

The identities of the Americans were not immediately known, but the yacht, the S/V Quest, is owned by Jean and Scott Adam, according to Ecoterra International, a piracy watchdog group. It is not clear whether the Adams — who were on a worldwide cruise — are onboard.


The Adams website documents their worldwide voyage, which started in late 2004. It includes trips to New Zealand, China, Cambodia and Panama. On the site, the Adams say their mission “is to allow the power of the word to transform lives … (and) seek fertile ground for the word and homes for our Bibles.”


U.S. military officials said they are keeping an eye on the situation. “We are aware of the situation and we are monitoring the situation carefully,” said Bob Prucha, a spokesman for the United States Central Command. “We have been aware for some time.”

Piracy has flourished off the coast of Somalia, which has not had an effective government for two decades. In April 2009, pirates seized the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama, leading to a standoff in the Indian Ocean. U.S. forces moved to rescue American Capt. Richard Phillips after seeing a pirate aiming a weapon on his back, officials said at the time. Three pirates were killed and one was arrested. The Somali man arrested was sentenced to more than 30 years in prison.

AP (“Pirates hijack 4 Americans; US mulls responses“)

The United States government on Saturday 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 Capt. Richard Phillips.


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 assaults.

Multimillion dollar ransoms are fueling the trade, and the prices for releasing a ship and hostages have risen sharply. One ransom last year was reported to be $9.5 million. Pirates currently hold 30 ships and more than 660 hostages, not counting the attack against the Quest.


The prison sentence given to Muse this week could have implications on the hijacking of the Quest and the four Americans. Pirates have turned increasingly violent in their attacks, and naval officials say pirates have begun systematically torturing hostages and using them as human shields.

Earlier this week a Somali pirate told an Associated Press reporter in Somalia that pirates would target Americans in retaliation for the sentencing. The pirate, who identified himself by the name Hassan, said Americans would suffer “regrettable consequences.”

Pirates have recently tied hostages upside down and dragged them in the sea, locked them in freezers, beaten them and used plastic ties around their genitals, the commander of the European Union anti-piracy force, Maj. Gen. Buster Howes told AP this month.

Whatever the wisdom of traveling dangerous waters to proselytize in desperate societies with unstable governments, these people have the right to travel in international waters unimpeded. And, despite a combined operation involving NATO, the European Union, Russia, China, and others, we’re thus far failing to do much about piracy in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden.

The fact of the matter is that counter-piracy operations are exceedingly difficult. The ocean is vast and pirates on small boats can easily operate around navies. Most experts agree that the solution to piracy is on land, not at sea. But stabilizing governments and eradicating poverty in that part of the world is more daunting than chasing down pirates and smugglers.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. tps says:

    There are things we can do to fight piracy better but we are too moral, for the moment at least, to do them. Things like stop acting treating them like criminals and treat them as pirates. You don’t arrest them, you kill them. As soon as they learn they stand a good chance of not coming back you weed out a lot of the ‘wannabes’. For the hard core, you don’t allow ransoms to be paid and you blow up the fancy houses the pirates build on shore.

    Will we go that far? For the US and most of the rest I doubt it. And that’s a good thing in a way and a bad thing in other ways.

    Other countries though have been doing things a lot harder though. I don’t know if this is policy or just the actions of a captain but there was a youtube of a Russian ship capturing some pirates. After disarming them the Russian set the crew adrift in the ocean in a rubber life raft with no food, water, radio, etc.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    Last week Somali pirates captured another oil tanker to appallingly little attention here in the United States. It might be that a seized yacht with Americans may garner more attention. I’m not so sure.

    Piracy is a subject i wrote on at some length some years ago. In the Caribbean for piracy to decline to a manageable level required two things. First, it required that states stop supporting acts of piracy against ships that sailed under flags other than their own. Second, the U. S. and British Navies began to take, reduce, and occupy pirate strongholds on land. If piracy adjacent to Somalia in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean is to be reduced to a manageable level, it will require similar measures, namely a consensus that the situation be taken seriously.

    What we’re doing now is not working and, worse, is not cost effective. What the Chinese are doing is much better: they’re charging for convoy duty.

  3. ratufa says:

    Why ending Somali piracy is not going to be easy:

    Somalia per-capita GDP: $600

    Somali pirates’ income for 2010: $238 million

    With regards to cost-effectiveness, it may be the case that accepting something near the current level of piracy as a cost of doing business is the most cost-effective solution, given the costs of alternatives and the financial incentives for piracy.

  4. Peter says:

    As author of Pirate State: Inside Somalia’s Terrorism at Sea, I hope US naval forces intercept the pirate kidnappers soon, otherwise it will be dangerous and costly captivity.

  5. John Walshe says:

    Maybe we shouldn’t have started stealing their fish stocks and dumping toxic waste on their shores in the first place? If that had happened around my country I’d see these ‘pirates’ as heroes.