The bodies of the four Americans killed after Somali pirates hijacked their yacht headed home on the USS Enterprise from the dangerous waters off the Somali coast last night, military officials said. Also on board the massive aircraft carrier were the 15 captured Somali pirates.
American officials have begun the process of determining how they will prosecute the 15 pirates who hijacked the yacht called the Quest.
"There is an ongoing investigation into the hijacking," Navy Ensign Brynn Olson, spokeswoman for U.S. Central Command, told the Washington Examiner.
The deaths at the hands of pirates increases concern about the growing strength of piracy around the horn of Africa.
Piracy is a "top priority for NATO and there has been an increased presence," Olson said.
Jean and Scott Adam, a retired couple from California, along with their friends, Phyllis Mackay and Bob Riggle from Washington state, were sailing the world on a Christian mission to distribute bibles when they were ambushed Feb. 18 by pirates some 300 miles off the Somali coast.
Jean Adam usually kept a blog during her travels, but stopped posting when the group hit dangerous waters to avoid giving pirates a way to track them.
For three harrowing days, the hijacked yacht was sailing toward the Somali coast with four American hostages and 17 pirates packed on board.
President Obama had authorized Navy warships to follow the yacht and use deadly force if needed, hoping to keep the Americans safe.
"It's very, very difficult to pull off a special operation like this where you have so many people on such a tight, confined little ship," Steve Gaynard, former deputy assistant secretary of state, said.
Officials were negotiating with two pirates on board the destroyer USS Sterett. In the midst of those negotiations, without warning, pirates on board the hijacked yacht fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the Sterett.
Then gunfire was heard onboard the yacht.
"Gunfire erupted inside cabin of Quest," Vice Admiral Mark Fox, commander of Central Command's Naval Forces, said.
"It doesn't take much to set them off, if one thing went sideways on the ship," ABC News Consultant Brad Garrett said.
The Navy launched 15 SEALS in two high-speed assault craft. Some pirates appeared to surrender.
"There were no gunshots fired from the boarding team as they boarded," Admiral Fox said.
Despite the efforts of the Navy Seals, it was too late for the hostages.
As special forces searched below decks, they encountered more pirates, killing two, one in a close-quarters knife fight.
"All the manpower and all the technology is never going to stop someone who has a gun trained on someone. You just can't kill them all that quickly," Garrett said.
Hearing the devastating news back in the US, family and friends of Jean and Scott Adam and Phyllis Mackay and Bob Riggle spoke of their sense of adventure.
"My aunt is a very smart and avid sailor. She was living her dream, sailing around the world," Nina Crossland, Phyllis Mackay's niece, said.
Crossland said at a news conference yesterday that she had been told her aunt was wounded by the time the U.S. military boarded the Quest, but died shortly after. Officials have confirmed that two of the Americans onboard the Quest were still alive when the military found them.