NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Somali pirates hijacked the yacht of an American couple who traveled the world handing out Bibles, and the U.S. government said Saturday it was assessing possible responses.
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 the ship’s captain, Richard Phillips.
The Quest is the home of Jean and Scott Adam, a couple from California who has been sailing around the world since December 2004, according to a website the Adams keep. Two other Americans were also believed to be on board.
A U.S. military spokesman at Central Command in Florida said: “We’re aware of the situation and we continue to monitor it.”
Matt Goshko, a spokesman at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, which oversees Somalia, said reports indicate there are four U.S. citizens aboard the Quest.
“All relevant U.S. agencies are monitoring the situation, working to develop further information, assess options and possible responses,” Goshko said.
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.
Pirates currently hold 30 ships and more than 660 hostages, not counting the attack against the Quest.
After the Maersk Alabama was hijacked in April 2009, Navy sharpshooters fired on pirates holding Phillips, killing two of them. The only pirate to survive was Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse, who was sentenced to 33 years in prison this week.
The best-known case of Westerners being held hostage in Somalia was that of Paul and Rachel Chandler, a British couple held for 388 days. The two, who were captured while sailing in their private yacht, were released in November.
U.S. officials will likely try to prevent the Adams’ yacht from reaching Somalia, where their options to rescue the Americans become limited.
A Somali pirate who gave his name as Bile Hussein said Saturday pirates from the Bari area of Somalia’s northern region of Puntland captured the yacht. Hussein said the yacht was expected to arrive in Somalia on Sunday “if no problems happen on their way.”
The Adams website chronicles the couple’s travels over the last seven years, from El Salvador and Panama in 2005 to Fiji in 2007 and Singapore and Cambodia last year. They most recently sailed from Thailand to Sri Lanka and India and were on their way to Oman when captured. Djibouti — the tiny East African country north of Somalia — had been next on their list. A satellite tracking system the couple uses showed them docked in Mumbai, India on Feb. 1.
“Djibouti is a big refueling stop. I have NO idea what will happen in these ports, but perhaps we’ll do some local touring,” the couple’s website says.
The Adams — who are members of the Marina del Rey Yacht Club in Marina del Rey, California — run a Bible ministry, according to their website, and have been distributing Bibles to schools and churches in remote villages in areas including the Fiji Islands, Alaska, New Zealand, Central America and French Polynesia.