Horror on the High Seas: Four Americans Killed After Somali Pirates Seize Their Yacht

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Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle are seen on a yacht in Calif.

Joe Grande / File / AP

Despite hostage negotiations and an American warship monitoring the imperiled ship, the four Americans aboard are reported dead. (via Swampland)

The two couples, Jean and Scott Adam, and Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle, were sailing around the world as part of a group of long-distance cruisers, the Blue Water Rally. But their boat, the Quest, broke from the group a week ago after leaving Mumbai, India, to take a different route. On Friday, off the coast of Oman, pirates boarded the Quest, jumpstarting a tense situation. A U.S. warship caravan caught up to the hijacked yacht on Sunday to begin negotiations.

(More on TIME.com: See the modern face of piracy in Somalia.)

Just two days away from reaching terra firma in Somalia, the pirates fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a U.S. Navy ship. The grenade missed, but troops heard gunfire aboard the yacht, prompting them to sweep in, our friends at Swampland note. “As they responded to the gunfire, reaching and boarding the Quest, the forces discovered all four hostages had been shot by their captors,” General James Mattis of U.S. Central Command said in a statement.

U.S. Navy Adm. Mark Fox said they believe 19 pirates seized the Quest after traveling on a “mother ship.” Tuesday, authorities took all 15 still-living pirates into custody – they found two pirates dead upon boarding the Quest and killed two others while clearing the ship. Fox said U.S. forces killed one pirate in a knife fight.

(More on TIME.com: See the top 10 clashes at sea.)

The Los Angeles Times reports there were signs of divisions among the 19 pirates during the hostage standoff, according to U.S. officers. The murders of the four Americans caught troops off-guard, as pirates usually seek ransom money in exchange for the safe return of the hostages. “We have heard threats against the lives of Americans before but it strikes me as being very, very unusual why they would kill hostages outright,” Graeme Gibbon-Brooks, the head of Dryad Maritime Intelligence told the AP. The deaths mark the first time US citizens have been killed in pirate attacks, which have plagued the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean for years, says The Guardian.

Jean and Scott Adam of Marina del Ray, Calif., an oceanfront town west of Los Angeles, owned the 58-foot Quest and had been sailing around the world since 2004, CNN reports. Riggle and Macay were from Seattle, traveling with the Adams to distribute Bibles around the world.

For more, head to Swampland.