Video: Somali pirates take 4 Americans hostage

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    WILLIE GEIST, co-host: Now to a tense situation for four Americans on board a yacht hijacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia . NBC 's George Lewis has the latest. George , good morning.

    GEORGE LEWIS reporting: Good morning, Willie . That yacht with the four Americans and as many as 15 pirates on board is being closely shadowed by US Navy ships with helicopters on board as an FBI hostage negotiation team tries to talk the pirates into releasing the Americans . The hostages are Scott and Jean Adam from Southern California , who've been sailing around the world on their yacht The Quest , and a Seattle couple Phyllis Macay and Robert Riggle , who joined the Adams in India .

    Ms. VICKY MULLEN (Phyllis Macay's Friend): Phyllis is, she's an exceptional person. I mean, the true adventurist.

    LEWIS: Scott Stolnitz , who's known the Adams a long time, describes them as highly experienced sailors who don't take chances at sea.

    Mr. SCOTT STOLNITZ: They were aware of the risks, and they are very thoughtful people. Scott 's a very gentle man, Jean 's a pretty tough gal. And boy, my heart goes out to them, and I wouldn't want to changes places with them.

    LEWIS: The Americans were captured off the coast of Oman as they were making their way toward the Red Sea . They had been sailing with other boats in a rally, but the rally organizers said on their Web site , " Quest chose to take an independent route, leaving the rally on 15 February ." Last year pirates operating out of Somalia hijacked 49 vessels over a million square miles of ocean. So was it a big mistake for the four Americans to go it on their own?

    Mr. STOLNITZ: They may have had boat difficulties. It's pretty tough sailing a small boat around the world. Lots of things go wrong.

    LEWIS: Sunday night in Santa Monica , California , the congregation at St. Monica Catholic Church offered prayers for the safe return of the four Americans . The Adams are parishioners at this church.

    Unidentified Priest: We'll have a prayer, we'll light this candle which is the sign of hope for their return to us. Because our hope is that these people return to us soon.

    LEWIS: On part of their voyage, the Adams had been handing out Bibles to people in the countries they'd visited. Ironically, at one point Jean Adam wrote on her blog, "We expect this trip to hold some unexpected surprises." And obviously, they never expected to be taken by pirates. Experts say if they are taken to Somalia , they could be in for a long period of captivity. A British couple captured by pirates was held for 388 days. Willie :

Image: The sailboat Quest
svquest.com
S/V Quest, reported hijacked by Somali pirates Friday, had four Americans aboard, reportedly including owners Jean and Scott Adams, who were sailing around the world.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 2/21/2011 10:01:06 AM ET 2011-02-21T15:01:06

A U.S. woman who was kidnapped by Somali pirates along with her partner and two Californian friends while sailing a yacht in the Indian Ocean is a "true adventurist" who was having a "great time," according to friends.

Seattle NBC station KING-TV reported that Phyllis Macay and Robert Riggle met as members of the Seattle Singles Yacht Club and later sold a lot of their belongings to fund an around-the-world sailing trip.

"She (Macay) is an exceptional person, a true adventurist," friend Vicky Mullen told the station. "This is her lifestyle and we all support her and she's had a great time," she said.

Video: Somali pirates take 4 Americans hostage (on this page)

"We're absolutely shocked that this has happened so we're doing everything we can to help her," Mullen added.

They were captured by pirates Friday along with friends Jean and Scott Adams of California. The pirates were taking the yacht toward the Somali coast and were being shadowed by a warship, according to two pirates and a Somali official.

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"I'm sure like everybody thinks, 'It's not going to happen to me, hundreds of boats get through there'," Mullen told KING-TV.

"I'm sure her mom is devastated but Phyllis is an adventurer and that's part of the adventure is getting out there," she added.

'Thought they would be OK'
The Seattle Times reported that Macay said in an e-mail sent shortly before Feb. 14 that they had "gotten information about the possibility of pirates before starting down their current route," citing Macay's niece Nina Crossland.

"This is something these guys spend a lot of time thinking about," Crossland said. "They do their research and carefully plan. She told my grandmother they'd be far enough off and thought they would be OK."

"My grandmother is very, very anxious right now, as you can imagine," Crossland said. "We all are."

If the hostages are taken to land, it would likely lengthen their hostage ordeal considerably.

A British sailing couple hijacked by Somali pirates was held hostage for more than a year.

Pirates hijacked the yacht 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 Adamses, who own the Quest, have been sailing around the world since December 2004, according to a website they keep.

The pirates are unlikely to hurt the four Americans because they won't win any ransom money if they do, said Graeme Gibbon-Brooks, the head of Dryad Maritime Intelligence.

He argued that the pirates would be wise to abandon the yacht because the hijacking threatens their business model, which relies on ransoms from large shipping and insurance companies.

"They risk the collapse of their business model if they change their status quo and the American government deems that they pose an immediate threat to the safety of American citizens," he said.

"They've made a mistake, and it's in the Somalis' business interest to get off the yacht as soon as possible," he added.

The U.S. military was monitoring the situation. 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.

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Pirates currently hold 30 ships and more than 660 hostages, not counting the attack against the Quest.

Navy sharpshooters
After the Maersk Alabama was hijacked in April 2009, the only pirate to survive was Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse, who was sentenced to 33 years in prison last 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.

Video: Pirates seize Americans; military mulls response

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 Adamses — who are members of the Marina del Rey Yacht Club in Marina del Rey, Calif. — 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.

The Adamses carry both Catholic and Protestant versions of the Bible, and at several different reading levels. The couple stamp the Bibles with "A GIFT from your friends in the United States. Quest Bible Ministry. NOT FOR SALE," after discovering a teacher whom they gave Bibles to sold them.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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