updated 8/22/2011 2:22:02 PM ET 2011-08-22T18:22:02

A Somali man was sentenced to life in prison on Monday for his role in the hijacking of a yacht off the coast of Africa that left all four Americans on board dead, telling a federal judge that he never meant for anyone to get hurt.

"I'd like to express my regret and sorrow to the victims' families," Ali Abdi Mohamed said through an interpreter.

Mohamed is the first of 11 men who have pleaded guilty to piracy in the case to be sentenced. Each of the men face mandatory life sentences, although that could eventually be reduced as part of a plea deal with federal prosecutors. A second Somali was expected to be sentenced later in the day.

Story: Yemeni pleads guilty in American yacht hijacking

The owners of the Quest, Jean and Scott Adam of Marina del Rey, Calif., along with friends Bob Riggle and Phyllis Macay of Seattle, were shot to death in February several days after being taken hostage several hundred miles south of Oman. They were the first Americans to be killed in a wave of piracy that has plagued the Indian Ocean in recent years.

Pirates' plan fell apart
The pirates said they intended to bring the Americans back to Somalia so that they could be ransomed, but that plan fell apart when four U.S. Navy warships began shadowing them. The Navy offered to let the pirates take the yacht in exchange for the hostages, but the pirates said they wouldn't get the kind of money they wanted for it. Hostages are typically ransomed for millions of dollars.

Mohamed told prosecutors he was ordered to fire a rocket propelled grenade at the American warships to keep them away from the Quest. Court documents say that in doing so, he inadvertently killed one of the pirates who was standing too close behind him. Shortly after the RPG was fired, gun fire erupted aboard the yacht.

Story: Somali president pardons jailed Westerners

Court records say three of the men shot at the Americans and that stray bullets they had fired killed another pirate. Mohamed said he and another pirate rushed downstairs to where the Americans were being held to wrestle the weapons of the shooters away and to get them to stop shooting, but it was too late.

Mohamed said that even though he didn't shoot the Americans, he hopes their families will forgive him. None of the victims' family members were present Monday, but they sent in numerous letters saying that their loss has been devastating. District Judge Mark Davis said that by all accounts, the victims lived lives filled with "service and with kindness to those they encountered."

The Adams had spent much of their time delivering Bibles around the world.

Three men are charged with murder and other death-penalty eligible charges. A fourth man also faces piracy charges for acting as a land-based negotiator for the band of pirates.

Mohamed and the others have agreed to help prosecutors in those cases and possibly others.

In all, 19 men boarded the Quest. When American forces boarded the boat, all but two men surrendered. Those two were shot and killed by U.S. forces.

U.S. authorities released one person because he was believed to have been a juvenile.

The prison Mohamed and the others will be sent to hasn't been determined.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Studying the Somali pirates

  1. Closed captioning of: Studying the Somali pirates

    >>> well, forget jack sparrow swashbuckling across the seven seas. the man you see there, our next guest, infiltrated somali havens foowing, studies real life pirates and published a book breaking down their business busting and discovery along wait. joining us, "the pirates of somalia ." jay, has will we all learn when we read your book? what do you believe the most important thing somebody like myself needs to know or others in this country we probably don't?

    >> one of the most important thing, it comes under the myth busting chapter of the book you mentioned, is that the pirates are very much on their own, and they're very much businesses interested in money, and i think one of the most dangerous early rumors that really came out of this in 2008 when pirates really hit the international news was that pirates were linked strongly with somalia , and a lot of people claimed for various reasons to do with their own agendas and the real and dangerodanger o consequences, ransom payments forbidden, which put a lot of the lives of hostages at risk. i think hopefully my boo attacks some of that, some of those allegations and helps clear that up.

    >> let's talk about the fact that these are not pirates . these are pirates from somalia , which means they are children who grew up in an african nation and found themselves doing what we're talking about, and want to share with everybody, a couple of statistics. everybody knows somalia on some level as a distressed far away place they don't think about much, and they know the pirates have a sort of glamour reputation, but the fact of the matter is, in somalia , 18% of the people that are in that country die before the age of 5. 3.7 million people, which, by the way, is more than half of the population, are under daily threat from lack of food. 1 million and a quarter children in urgent need of life-saving care, meaning their life is in jeopardy. in fact,in 2011 , somalia ranked dead last out of 137 countries in an index prepared by an organization called international living . my point is, if you are born as a young boy or girl to that country, the chance of anything other than something very bad -- being alive after 5, you're 4 out of 5 to do that. how much of the nasty nature of what's going on on the ground there maect what we'affect what we're se eing on the water?

    >> well, i think i agree completely that somalia is a country in dire need especially now with the famine going on in the south and generally one of the mostmost neglected countries in the world, piracy and things that affect people outside the country, but in terms of piracy itself, i tink there's very little evidence there's a drebt link between poverty and piracy. and i say this, because, well, the -- somalis have lived in crippling poverty since the collapse of the central state in 1981 , yet it took 17 years for pirs toy beco piracy tbecome a problem in somalia . you don't see relatively poor areas producing more pirates . in the south, for example, really, it's much, much worse than the north, where i was, and where piracy really originated from. you don't see -- you see very little to no pirates operating out of the south. and --

    >> so -- so what do you attribute it to?

    >> to geography. why the north was so -- was so, such a crucial epicenter, because if you see footland, north of the country, it's inryount just to the intersection of the indian ocean and gulf of aden. one of the biggest shipping lanes in the world. two, there is a government there. a lot of people don't know that there are actual many different functioning governments with somalia itself. in footland, that government, basically it ran out of money in 2008 . and stopped paying its security forces and, really, it's ability to control its coast completely collapsed. so you had basically a situation where thing was not at chaotic as in the south, warlords, islamics, those who make running a business very difficult. at the same time, the government had nooney to pay security forces . couldn't do anything. that's why you had --

    >> yeah, okay. i'm sorry. i didn't mean to interrupt.

    >> that's why it exploded at that specific juncture as in 2008 , versus a year in --

    >> right. so would it be fair -- fair to say that a necessary pre-condition for this type of activity, or exasperating precondition may be the poverty, but it is only then with access opportunity and safe operating scheme that that -- there's lots of poor countries , as your point is, lots of poor countries and they don't have any pirates . your point, it's nust poverty. poverty may be a pre-condition but it takes more than that to end up where we are. is that a fair interpretation?

    >> yeah. absolutely. and, clearly -- yeah. if people weren't as -- disadvantaged as in somalia , i don't think there would be nearly -- piracy wouldn't nearly be as big a problem. at the same time, if you took the population of, say, a state in the united states , transplanted it into somalia and the same conditions where criminality wasn't punished, some would turn into being criminals, right? and this is what's happened in somalia . but obviously, partly and undeying factor but not direct -- i don't call it a direct --

    >> poverty doesn't create pirates . poverty may about necessary, or enhancing pre-condition with other factors you're describing pites, i s probably the best understanding. right?

    >> sure, yes.

    >> one other thing that struck me in reading about this, i'm interested to know whether you saw anything about it, was that in response to the piracy problem, that private financial institutions and insurance companies that pay the ransoms have started hiring their own private armies to hunt the pirates . have you seen anything about this?

    >> yeah. well, it's happened a lot more recently where companies have turned to security teams onboard, and actually there's been a couple of cases in the news lately where these teams have actually repelled pirates . there are problems. the cost makes it impractical for most ship owners traveling through that area to actually have armed security teams onboard. even a poorly trained team costs soing in the range of $10,000 a day. it takes three to five days to get through, and global shipping means such a cutthroat, really, a cutthroat industry, most ship owners don't have enough in their budgets to pay for that. two, you run the risk of escalating an incident. what you see with pirates is that when the international forces have thrown one strategy at them, they've adapted very well. in one crew, for example, started hiding in safe areas in the ship and pirates responded actually bringing plastic explosives onboard. i fear that you just risked escalating the situation, and i spoke to an insurer in london, which underwrites most of the --

    >> these guys, these guys don't have to pay the ransom?

    >> sorry?

    >> these guys are the ones that pay the ransom? lloyds?

    >> yes, right. they -- well, they're the underwriters, but the specific insurer, well, pay the ransom.

    >> i get it.

    >> what they told me was that actually hiring security can increase your premium, because so many sketchy security companies popping you all over the gulf of aden.

    >> you increase your risk spending money on security. kind of funny.

    >> in some cases, yeah.

    >> kind of like too big to fail except much higher stakes. amazing reporting. congratulations on not only the courage to do the journalism, but the discipline to publish a book about it when were you done. really impressive. thank you, jay.

    >> thank you very much.

    >> there's the book.


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