Prosecutors say that the 19 Somalis – 14 of whom have already been sentenced – boarded the victim’s yacht in February 2011 off the Horn of Africa in order to gain a substantial ransom.
Whilst vessels were dispatched by the US Navy after the hostages sent a distress signal, four subsequent days of negotiations failed to turn into results.
Pirates then fired a rocket-propelled grenade against one of the US ships, leading to the US Navy’s attempt to rescue the hostages.
Four of the Somali men died during the attempt, and by the time US Navy Seals boarded the yacht, all four Americans had been fatally wounded.
The victims – Jean Adam, 66, her husband Scott Adam, 70, Phyllis Patricia Macay, 59, and Robert Riggle, 67 – had been sailing round the world distributing bibles.
A changing attitude
Whilst prosecution plays its part in discouraging piracy off the Horn of Africa, experts are citing preventative measures as some of the best weapons against piracy.
According to Rear Admiral Duncan Potts – Operation Commander of the European Union Naval Force (EU Navfor) – the maritime piracy business model in Somalia has effectively been broken down, with 151 verified attacks in 2011 dropping to only 31 attacks so far this year.
In a conversation with the BBC, Potts detailed a number of factors which had led to the country’s pirates being “contained and restrained”.
He attributes the drop to four main factors:
- The successful inclusion of private, armed security guards on the vessel – who have so far had a 100% success rate in deterring/defeating pirate attacks;
- Shipping companies displaying better management practices, including the hardening of vessels and more advanced evasion actions being recommended;
- Pre-emptive, combined action by the navies with presence region which aim to ensure pirates do not leaves their anchorages – including a recent combined naval forces raid on Somali land bases last May; and,
- Somalia’s own, changing attitude to pirates – which expresses far less tolerant of such attacks.
Yet the progress against piracy is fragile and still very much reversible – and until Somalia can reach stability and prosperity within its borders, piracy is likely to be a problem in the area for years to come.