Surely, many of you are familiar with the news of four Americans who were captured when their vessel the S/V QUEST by pirates a couple days ago while sailing their yacht through pirate-infested waters. This morning their voyage ended.

In a statement, US Central Command said that negotiations were underway between the US Navy and the pirates, when the US forces heard gunfire coming from the Quest about 0600GMT.

They boarded the ship, killing two pirates in the process, and discovered the four Americans shot. The US Navy sailors attempted to provide first aid but the hostages died, the military said.

“As they responded to the gunfire, reaching and boarding the Quest, the forces discovered all four hostages had been shot by their captors,” Gen James Mattis of US Central Command Commander said in a statement.

“We express our deepest condolences for the innocent lives callously lost aboard the Quest,” the statement added.

The US Navy captured 13 pirates, and found the remains of two other pirates already dead about the vessel, the US military said. – BBC News

I have to say that I am surprised to hear this news, partly because you think that God might be watching over them given the bible mission that they were conducting. But relying on God to protect you as you plan to travel through pirate-infested waters is no plan at all. After-all the pirates pray to God too and are holding hundreds of seafarers hostage, not to mention a ship full of yachts whose owners were not interested in sailing through the area on their own. Their website makes no mention of the threat of pirates in their 2011 travel plans (page here). But given that pirates have been taking vessels as a revenue-generating scheme, and that live prisoners are worth lots more than dead ones, I just expected them to either end up ashore and hidden in Somalia or wait it out while the US Navy prevents them from taking them ashore.

I am not sure what the lessons are to be learned here that are not already known. But for the benefit of those still tempted to run the gauntlet, here is a reminder:

  • Yachts are extremely vulnerable
  • Even if the Navy comes to your rescue, it very well might be too late
  • The close quarters of a yacht keep you in close contact with pirates at all times, including during any attempt to retake the vessel
  • Pirates are very willing to kill their captives
  • If attacked, it is extremely important to keep the pirates from getting access to the crew

Piracy in the area is spreading and turning into a free-for-all for the pirates. The game is over for the 13 the Navy caught while retaking the vessel, but the pirates seem to be running the board at the moment.

So, what criminal charges do the 13 face back in the US and might the death penalty be on the table?


Here is confirmation that they knew what they were sailing into:

Friends of a US couple aboard a yacht hijacked off Somalia on Friday say the pair knew their journey was risky, but were determined to press on with their Christian mission.

In an email sent days before they went missing, Scott and Jean Adam described plans to stay out of touch to hide their location from pirates. – BBC News

Three more very important lessons here:

  • You can’t hide from pirates in the open ocean. It’s like trying to hide in the middle of an empty football field.
  • The pirates are most likely to be where you want them least.
  • Help is least likely to be where you want it most. A warship 30 miles away is an hour away from helping you. (outside of helo assistance)

Posted by FFry in Maritime Security, Piracy, Travel

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  • Horatius


  • David Gray

    Mr. Fry: The pirates may pray, but they do not pray to God.
    Additionally, all of the missionaries I have spent time with are not desiring to die in the field, but they are all willing to. They are not praying for safety in hostile territory, so much as they are praying that they will live lives the bring glory to God.

  • smithers

    Not great sense on the behalf of the traveling Americans to go in to troubled, pirate-infested waters. But even less the pirates who will now have the US forces up their asses big time. Good luck with that.

  • Old Grunt

    So, a flotilla of military naval vessels can’t stop the piracy. Four US ships (including an aircraft carrier) along with dozens of ships of other nations can’t stop high seas piracy? Even though we know where the pirates are coming from? Even though we can track their “mother ships?” And we have captured how many pirates and what has been their fate?

    If you simply do the numbers, the current risk of capture or loss of life to Somali pirates is probably around 10-15%. Not bad when you consider the rate of return. When are we going to make it not worth the risk any longer?

    The reality is that fighting pirates is no different from mine warfare. If you destroy mines when they are still in the depot or while on a ship getting ready to lay them, you eliminate the problem. If you wait until the mines are laid, you can’t do clear or destroy them without putting friendly lives at risk. We know where the pirates are home ported. We can track their mother ships. Why do we have to wait for them to seize a vessel before we will do anything?

    Every time we allow pirates to gather with no risk and then deploy with no risk, then innocents pay the price.

    Now is the time to take decisive action. The people who live with and work with these pirates are no different from those committing the piracy. I have no sympathy for any person who is benefiting directly or indirectly from what is going on (including their families. Lessons learned through history show that when thugs know they and theirs will be (not might be) killed, they give up and go do something else.

    As pirates, they have put themselves outside of the rules of international law. If we will not do anything to “motivate” them out of this business then we might as well take our Navy with our expensive toys and go home.

    Or maybe we could just pay the Koreans to do our Navy’s job for us? They seem to have a grasp of the real world.

  • J Ringoes

    I am very frustrated at America’s, and The world’s vulnerability to Piracy. I would like to find a credible forum for discussing different strategies and policies.

    If this blog appropriate?

    Thank you.

  • JD

    @David Gray: I agree.
    @FFry: I also agree with your comments regarding common sense and planning, but these folks had a mission to accomplish, and while there were probably other ways they could have accomplished it without putting themselves at such risk,I’m more concerned about the anomalies this incident appears to represent.

    1.) As you pointed out, pirates don’t normally kill their hostages. These pirates did in the face of certain retaliation (recalling Maersk Alabama). Why? Does this action represent a sinister turn in tactics or does it reflect the tension and confusion caused by 23 human beings, all scared and most armed, being crammed together on a 58-foot boat?
    2.) There were 19 pirates on board this vessel. Have that many ever attacked even a large vessel, let alone one as small as S/V Quest? Were they looking to claim this vessel as a mother “ship”?

  • sid

    Even wit the risk, the majority of the cruisers who choose to head up the Red Sea are making the passage without incident.

    I have to wonder where the Quest was when taken?

    Also, as JD mentioned…19 pirates aboard? 23 people on even a 58 footer makes for right close company.

    I suspect there will be more to this story…

  • We have the intel, the forces, and the training to do what needs to be done – a punitive expedition; preferably from the air and sea.

    We have a track record of thousands of years of the written word of successful anti-piracy campaigns. Most involve two parallel efforts – (1) impact the economics that encourage it, (2) Kill the pirates when you find them, destroy their bases, homes, ships, and other support facilities.

    Another thing we know is that you need to make the punishment severe for any killing of your nation’s nationals and/or taking of your nation’s property. That makes you a higher profit risk, and they will go on to easier targets. This is part of 1 & 2 above.

    All it takes is political will. If you do not like Americans being killed at sea – focus your questions at the civilian leadership, that is where the orders come from.

    We continue to fail; and fail because of a lack of will.

    Let’s see what happens over the next couple of weeks. If nothing happens ashore, then know this; more Americans will be slaughtered like pigs; and more; and more – and not just by pirates. Once word spreads that Americans are easy targets you can kill with impunity, the laws of nature will take its course.

    Your countrymen, how cheap are you willing to sell their lives?

  • Byron

    I don’t trust myself with the words. Suffice to say, time to fly the black flag. Time for the US Navy to man up. What say you, POTUS?

  • JD

    I found this link on Eagle1’s blog:

    It’s the transcript of VADM Fox’s press briefing.

  • You aren’t going to solve the issue of piracy off the coast of Somalia without resolving the issues of governance and sanctuary in Somalia. These are not issues that can be solved through force of arms alone, and not something that can be solved quickly or without considerably dedication of resources.

    In this case, opposed/hostile VBSS operations are extraordinarily tricky for the best trained operators in the world. 19 armed pirates holding 4 hostages below decks on a sailing yacht is a tactical nightmare for which there is not a good tactical solution without endangering the lives of the hostages. Obviously the risk would have been preferable to the outcome, but that could not have been known at the time. The MO of Somali pirates is business — they hold their hostages for ransom not ideology, and return them when they are paid. We don’t have many details on this most recent tragedy, but this incident does not necessarily suggest any change in the pirates’ concept of operations.

    In a strategic sense, this is a nuisance criminal enterprise. The shipping industry is more concerned with their excess capacity from new hulls ordered during the last boom coming online and commodity prices than they are about piracy, so the impact of Somali piracy on global seaborne commerce (itself a strong national interest of the U.S.) is limited.

    There is absolutely room to be more aggressive in our actions against pirates, and from what I hear from ASM, lots of room for better coherency, coordination and streamlining chain of command and decisionmaking in the U.S. and multinational effort. Overcoming tactical challenges in identifying pirate motherships (the issue of whether there are hostages held aboard remains) and finding appropriate targets ashore in pirate sanctuaries that minimize civilian loss of life in punitive strikes and improving the composition and disposition of forces are all things that could potentially be done.

    But the world is a nasty place and the United States does not have the resources to solve all the world’s ills. Somali piracy is an issue that can be better addressed, but it needs to be kept in perspective — as does the limits of force of arms (and particularly the limits of force of arms in isolation).

  • Sid, that is a very interesting article you posted about private yachts transiting the Gulf of Aden. Still, despite their preparation, they had no real defense other than scattering in 27 directions if pirates did show up. It is an interesting strategy, but still it works because it sacrifices one/some members so the others to get away. (and this is a benefit they apparently discarded with pledges to stick together)

    As for being without incident, it was luck that the Somalis they ran into were more interested in free cigarettes than anything else.

  • sid

    Agreed…It is a true case of survival of the whole by possibly losing a few out of the flock…

    The essence of the convoy system.

    Point is though, there have been more than that one multi yacht passage with no incident.

    Is there a change in operational efforts by the pirates now that one has been imprisoned here? And now they are going after the easy prey yachts certainly are?

    Was this yacht..openly advertising their Christian mission…specifically targeted?

    Like I say…I suspect there will be more chapters to this story.

  • I doubt that this yacht was specifically targeted, given how pirates have accidentally targeted warships. However, once onboard, the Christian mission aspect might have come into play.

    As for passing through the gulf without incident it is along the same lines as pointing out that not everyone who has played Russian roulette. Every ship does not see pirates. Not every ship that sees pirates is attacked. Not every ship that is attacked it take. And still there are 700+ seafarers being held by pirates.

    And the threat is growing.

    And I seriously doubt that any pirates that run across a sailing vessel are going to pass it up in the hopes of bigger game. These guys were just unlucky that they happened to run across some Americans whose Government took enough of an interest in their situation to try and help them. Otherwise they might be experiencing the wonders of Somalia proper right now.

  • sid

    As for passing through the gulf without incident it is along the same lines as pointing out that not everyone who has played Russian roulette.

    One thing is certain…If I were cruising there…I would definitely choke the civil version of “Parrot”….

    However, the odds are way better than one in six of a private yacht being molested…Or at least have been.

  • Robin

    As a friend and sometimes crew member of Quest, I can say Scott and Jean had a good idea of what they were doing, and their recent emails conveyed appropriate concern. What I don’t understand is why or how they became separated from the Blue Water Rally group of boats they had been with for several weeks. This was not their plan as they described… they believed the group was their safety net. In addition, to quote Jean, “We have EPIRB, AIS, normal SSB radio and VHF, Irridium phone, VHF sat phone and email, and our SPOT. We are told NOT to use firearms or flareguns as it will increase the risk to us (I believe this because neither Scott or I are trained killers). We feel comfortable with the trip, so please don’t go nuts.”

    I’m deeply distraught at their deaths, and hope that their deaths will motivate change in the handling of piracy.

  • CDR_Ret

    Christian Bible missionaries and Islamic Somali pirates do not pray to the same God. To believe that is simply ignorance about the nature of the two religions and uncritically accepting diversity claims about the essential moral equivalence of all religions.

    My approach is this: Obtain an international agreement that piracy is a capital crime punishable by death. Commanding officers of naval warships should be granted the authority to summarily try and execute any pirates apprehended in the act of piracy where hostages are killed. It is with great frustration that I anticipate these pirates involved in the S/V Quest incident will escape with their lives because of misplaced international humanistic antipathy toward capital punishment.

    And, yes, we need to address the lack of a functioning government in Somalia. But it has been reported that most pirate are not bringing home the bacon to feed their families, but are squandering their ill-got gains on what pirates have always sought–sex, alcohol, and personal riches. At the risk of over-generalization, these aren’t simply poor, disenfranchised people looking to make a living. They are sociopaths with no moral compass.

  • JD

    @Robin: You and all the other friends and relatives of the victims are in my prayers. It is somewhat reassuring to have some insight into Scott and Jean’s understanding of the threat, but your revelation that they had not planned to leave the rally is puzzling. I wonder if the other crews will add any insight as time goes on.

    I haven’t seen any other comments on this yet, but VADM Fox told the media yesterday that the pirates fired an RPG at Sterett just before the gunfire was heard. That wasn’t the first time pirates fired on a warship or aircraft, but it’s the first time I’ve heard of them actually using an *RPG* against one. This could be yet another anomaly.

  • YN2(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III

    Essentially an ENTIRE CSG went after them… Insane.

    Sometimes, when you look to drive in a tack with a 10lbs sledge, you end up loosing the tack.

    Lesson learned:

    DO NOT ALLOW VESSELS TO BE PIRATED IN THE FIRST PLACE!!!!! Establish the ROEs accordingly given the resources available.

    I was aboard SAN when we stood up 151 back in ’09. I’d really like to see us get serious about fighting piracy.

    It must REALLY suck to be walking the decks of those 4 ships tonight, I would feel like I failed. But, just the same, this whole arrangement is set up for success in the first place.

    What business does the ENTERPRISE have in trailing a pirated vessel? Seriously, what? The CG and two DDGs were more than enough. When the M/V Faina (sp?) was captured they kept either a single CG or DDG in proximity (I remember, the poor squids from the Vella Gulf spent months doing circles around the M/V), and it was chock full of T-72s, Artillery and ammo.

  • YN2(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III


    Of course I meant to say “this whole arrangement is NOT set up for success in the first place.”

    And the irony is not lost on me in the name of one of the DDGs there, USS STERETT.

    “After resupplying in Baltimore, Sterett sailed Enterprise to the Barbary Coast in June, 1801 as part of a force under Commodore Richard Dale, in the first stages of the Barbary Wars.

    On 1 August 1801, Enterprise under Sterett’s command handily defeated the 14-gun Tripoli, a Tripolitan corsair. After twice faking surrender, Tripoli suffered 30 dead and 30 wounded, including the Captain, Rais Mahomet Rous, and the first officer. Enterprise suffered no casualties.

    Since there was no formal declaration of war, Enterprise was under orders not to take prizes. After her crew was ordered to dump its guns overboard, Tripoli was allowed to sail home, where her captain was humiliated and punished.

    Enterprise was sent back to Baltimore with dispatches after this engagement. While there, on the recommendation of Congress, Sterett was presented by President Thomas Jefferson with a sword in gratitude of the victory over the Tripoli. Enterprise’s crew was also rewarded with an extra month’s pay. The ship returned to the Mediterranean in November 1802.”

    Andrew Sterett died at the age of 29, after kicking major pirate butt.

  • CDR Tom O’Malley, USN (Ret)

    We have now had 4 US citizen murdered by pirates. Will this be enough to force action?
    This is a simple “risk vs reward” equation. for the pirates the risk currently is very low in comparison with the rewards. Shipping companies have shown willingness to pay ransoms of staggering amounts of money and there are not enough coalition naval vessels to cover all of the areas all of the time. That being said, it is time to be proactive instead of reactive. Time to change the equation so the “risk” will outweigh the “reward”. And the risk must outweigh the reward by a lot. That, in and of itself will slow the pirates down and make them much more selective in the choice of targets.
    The real choice is in the political will of the leaders of the nation. It is time for the United States to step up and change the equation. We have the technology to know where the bases are, where the supplies come from and probably to a certain extent where the ransom money ends up. Destroy the bases of operation with targeted strikes from the air and sea. Sink pirate vessels at sea. When the bases pop up in another location; hit them again and again. The fledgling US Navy defeated the Barbary Pirates and the Pirates of the Carribbean and they did it by killing the pirates and destroying their bases. Time to repeat history. It is time for our leaders to have the US Navy return to its roots to solve this problem in the only manner that will get the attention of would be pirates. Once the pirates and those who would be pirates realize the fate that awaits them, they will find another less risky line of work. It is time for the US to exhibit leadership or risk being known as a nation that fails to punish those who harm and/or kill our citizens. If that be the case, then it will be open season on US citizens.

  • Matt Yankee

    The sailor that killed the pirate with a knife should be given an award and the rest of the pirates should be hanged and tossed overboard without expending a single bullet. Then set up a permanent FOB at the best possible place of our choosing and proceed in killing the rest of them and any targets of oppurtunity in the Al Shabaab Terror Org. while being more worried about staying safe but cheap and deadly. Seek very big bang for very little of our precious blood or treasure…as these pirates deserve.

    Fire the professional theorists and get back to reality immediately.

  • Flashman

    @CDR Salamander, I’m with you.

    @nhughes…that sounds like the ‘party line’ these days. In the strategic sense, pirating a few vessels and ransoming them is not a big deal….until it turns into a growth industry…and encourages more risk taking….and ends up hazarding a vessel or becoming a hazard to navigation, which puts lives at risk and the risks can become evermore catastrophic (how about running a tanker aground in the Gulf of Aden?).

    Yes, this stems from problems in Somalia with governance. Other contributing factors include fish-poaching in the Somali waters and the perception by many Somali fisherman that vessels transiting close to Somalia dump their waste in Somali waters affecting the fisheries. Yes, the problem is complex, but making costs significantly higher by destroying motherships and taking offensive action will reduce the economic incentive.

    We have the means, we know what has historically worked, but do we have the will? This is not a new phenomenon. It will continue until it’s stopped.

  • Flashman

    BTW, we’ve generally discouraged Americans (outlawed it in most cases) from paying ransoms in the event of kidnappings. Kidnap-for-ransom (KFR) is dangerous…paying ransoms encourages the activity. This is the same…why do we think we should play by different rules?

  • Lowly USN (retired)

    Outstanding forum. BZ!!! It would not take long for the Navy/Marine Corps team to exterminate these vermin where they nest. What is the Commander-in-Chief waiting on, a recommendation for an expeditionary strike order from Defense Secretary Robert Gates and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, USN? If so, the piracy problem will never end.

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    The essence of convoy is NOT scatter when the “enemy in sight”.

    It is to hold position in formation while the Escort (of several warships with sufficient speed, endurance, and armament; usually, Frigates) engages and destroys or drives off the enemy.

    Yachts review and heed Notices to Mariners. Stay away. The Navy can not protect you away from a convoy, no yacht convoys are being formed.

    As predicted, this want of Frigates is graven upon our hearts. It will be again.

    Things will get worse. Avoidably, inevitably worse.

    RIP brave and devout souls.

  • sid

    As a friend and sometimes crew member of Quest, I can say Scott and Jean had a good idea of what they were doing, and their recent emails conveyed appropriate concern. What I don’t understand is why or how they became separated from the Blue Water Rally group of boats they had been with for several weeks.

    Robin, I am deeply sorry for the loss of your friends.

    The essence of convoy is NOT scatter when the “enemy in sight”.

    Grandpa…In the absence of adequate escort, grouping in numbers, and scattering when the enemy is in sight is a natural tactic forged by a very long process of natural selection

    Until this incident, the Somali pirates have been indifferent prey to yachts transiting the region.

    But the point you make is a very good one when looking at human endeavors bent on visiting violence on a hapless flock in war.

    It was a tactic that did not work so well for PQ-17….

    And the point is well taken about the peril of a nation surrounded by seas that believes its navy does not need escorts….

  • sid
  • leesea

    The USN proably has the way, BUT the White House does not have the will. Or for that matter even the vision to see the need.

    What I have not seen is good tactics and hard ROE from out Navy especially when comparted to other navies.

    While piracy cannot be completely solved unless we go ashore, I can be attacked from the sea and with good effect. Naval raids and a Market Time style operation can be done NOW.

  • Having a couple days to think this over, I am starting to think that the US response, other than to prosecute the pirates in-hand will be nothing. This is based on how the US has been handling increasing violence on the US side of the US/Mexico border which at the moment has been Little more than posting signs warning travelers that they were entering a sort of no-mans land.

    In both situations the solution is going after the bad actors. However there seems to be little will to confront those who will complain about this kind of response.

  • Lowly USN (retired)

    The current administration does not have the will nor the testosterone to erradicate piracy. If they did, the least that could be done is to bait the field. A yacht flotilla will draw the roaches in with ROE authorizing the Operators to fumigate at their discretion and as needed to exterminate the pests and disinfect the area.

  • Matt Yankee

    Here here Fred Fry!

    The situation on our southern border blows the Somali Pirates out of the water in importance to this country. It is a disgrace of biblical porportions and every slap ####, Bahgdad Bob, Fool responsible will have their names etched in stone one day I predict. It defines just how out of touch our civ. leaders are still TODAY. I was just 30 miles east of Laredo TX on a ranch and OUR territory has reverted back to the Wild Wild West. Do not believe the liars that say “the situation is as good as ever”. They are as obvious a Bahgdad Bob as I ever would of dreamed possible in the USA. Disgrace.

    WHAT is so complicated about the idea of a Perimeter and guarding the freaking line. What would happen to a FOB if soldiers didn’t really guard the perimeter but instead set up check points on the freaking base instead? Screw up the workings of the base and still FAIL miserably. PERIMETER…google if you have to.

    I cannot believe this state of affairs is possible…disgrace. I fear many more Americans will have to die before their “cost-benefit analysis” adds up to enough and then I fear they will cry that they just never could of known. Rotten to the core.

  • John Carollo

    When is America going to look the otherway and let every nation look the other way. All the Hostiages should immediatley be shot. America is the best country in the entire world Nobody is better then The Good OLD USA. We have got to stop letting everybody kill us and we need to stop giving our hard earned money to all of them. I want to level all those nation that are killing our Americans,Road side bombs etc. imagine Somal’s need to be warned that we mean business and will not tolerate another killing of our people. And who is ever in office at the highest level we have to stop giving our hard earned money away. We not bring these SOB’s here and line them up against the wall and shoot them immediately kill them all. My wife and i are both Korean Vets and i am tired to seeing our people killed. President Harry Trumen would never put up with what is going on. Teach the world we mean business and needs to stop NOW. John Carollo

  • John Carollo

    We need to stop looking for someone else to do away with Somali’s we need to do it ourselves. Also we should not give a dam about what the world has to say about what action we take. We have all had enough and we need someone with hair on his you know what. Flatten those Somali’s once in for all. This country gives and gives and what do we get..??? Just another killings of our good People. I have come to appreciate Israel for their stance. NEVER AGAIN!!! that’s their motto. John Carollo, leesburg Florida

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    Sid: Group and Scatter?

    Natural tactic for a flock of flightless birds, perhaps. But not for a Convoy. The deer and the antelope can run, fast and maneuver, at least. But Serengeti grazing stock are not a primary source of naval tactics. Sailboats? Defenseless. Escort in numbers required.

    Convoys are defended. Heavily, vigorously defended as a key OFFENSIVE TACTIC.

    Read about “The Destruction of Convoy PQ17” on the Murmansk run.

    Let’s at least try to keep the fundamentals straight, here of all places.

    Apparently the classified ComTac library is locked away so security is 4.0 and knowledge transmission is 0.0, now, just as when Gramps was a bow hook.

    Bragging rights for the first to Name That NWP (Naval Warfare Publication) Number.

  • The Somali pirates have caught more cruisers:

    “Three Danish children and their parents have been snatched by pirates who hijacked their sailing boat in the Indian Ocean, Danish officials say.

    Denmark’s foreign ministry said the children were aged between 12 and 16, and that two Danish crew members were also captured during the attack.

    Pirates seized the boat on 24 February and were said to be heading to Somalia.”

  • Were the names of those four Americans Cartman, Stan, Kyle, and Kenny, by any chance? “Pirates are sweeeeeeeet.”

    Christian missionaries face a heavy risk in any heavily Islamic middle eastern territory. They also might have been taken hostage and/or killed if they’d walked into Iran or Saudi Arabia with a stack of Bibles and conversion on their agenda. I hope the Danish family faces a kinder fate.