Warship Tracking Yacht Hijacked by Somali Pirates

PHOTO Somali Pirates Seize Yacht with Americans AboardPlayABC News
WATCH Somali Pirates Take American Hostages

The U.S. Navy is actively tracking the yacht with four Americans on board that was hijacked by pirates and was reported to be headed for the Somali coast.

A Defense Department official told ABC News that the monitoring includes at least one Navy warship and some helicopters that have been trailing the yacht as it makes its way from Yemen to Somalia.

A pirate who said he is in contact with the hijackers on the yacht Quest told The Associated Press that a warship and helicopters have been following the vessel.

U.S. officials confirmed Saturday that the vessel seized Friday by Somali pirates off the coast of Oman has four Americans on board.

Though U.S. officials did not release any information about the yacht today, a U.S. Embassy spokesman on Saturday said officials were assessing options and "possible responses" to the situation.

It is believed that Somali pirates currently have 29 ships in their possession and are holding 660 crewmembers hostage.

Speaking with the AP, one pirate who identified himself as Hassan said a warship with a helicopter on its deck is near the Quest.

A second pirate identifying himself as Bile Hussein, and a Somali official in Puntland who asked not to be named, both said the Quest is between Yemen and Somalia, heading for Puntland, on Somalia's northern tip -- a haven for pirates.

"All relevant U.S. agencies are monitoring the situation, working to develop further information, assess options and possible responses," said Matt Goshko, a spokesman at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, according to The Associated Press.

Lt. Commander Susie Thomson, a spokeswoman for the Combined Maritime Forces that patrol the waters of the Middle East, confirmed the Quest incident, but would provide no details.

"We've seen the reports and all the appropriate government agencies are closely monitoring the situation," U.S. Central Command spokesman Lt. Col. Michael T. Lawhorn said.

Steve Ganyard, the former deputy assistant secretary of state and a Marine Corps fighter pilot said that the pirates may have pushed the United States to the brink.

"I think, however, these pirates have made a grave mistake and I think in this case they pushed the United States government just too far, and I think there will be a drama that will play out in the days to come," Ganyard said.

The 58-foot S/V Quest is owned by Jean and Scott Adam, who have been sailing the boat around the world for the past seven years. As they approached the notoriously hostile waters off the Horn of Africa, the Adams cut back using their radios and satellite systems so their location couldn't be tracked by pirates, but they were still found.

The other two Americans onboard have been identified as Phyllis Mackay and Bob Riggle, according to organizers of an international yacht race called the Blue Water Rally that the boat had just taken part in.

The Adams are members of the Del Rey Yacht Club in Marina Del Rey, Calif. Contacted by ABC News, a marina manager there said he knew of the situation, but was unwilling to comment or give further details at this time.

The couple details their travels on a website, where an entry from last December listed their expected stops in 2011 as "Galle, Sri Lanka; Cochin, India; Salalah, Oman; Djibouti, Djibouti; The Suez Canal; and Crete. That gets us to April."

That path would have taken them directly into the pirate-infested waters off the coast of Somalia. Pirates there have seized oceangoing vessels for large ransoms; just last week two supertankers carrying oil were seized in waters far off the Somali coast.

John Burnett, the author of "Dangerous Waters: Modern Piracy and Terror on the High Seas," was once himself beaten and kidnapped by pirates.

"They're right now staring down the barrels of loaded guns, held by children, or held by youths, with whom they cannot communicate, and they're just praying that the ransom is going to get paid, and they have no idea whether they're going to live or die," Burnett told ABC News.

If the yacht reaches Somalia, the four hostages would likely be taken inland, which would make a fast resolution much less likely.

Burnett added that though the Adams have several strikes against them, including their Western yacht and their Christian ministry, which is despised by Somali jihadists, the couple are far more valuable to them alive than dead.

Pirate seizures have continued in the waters off East Africa despite the constant patrols of by the world's navies, including ships from the United States.

On Thursday, Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse was sentenced in New York to 33 years in prison for kidnapping and brutalizing Capt. Richard Phillips, who was held hostage for five days in 2009 when pirates armed with AK-47s scrambled up the stern of Maersk Alabama.

The U.S. Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, coordinates an international task force that patrols the waters of East Africa. The European Community also maintains a separate anti-piracy mission in the same waters.

ABC News' Dana Hughes and Steven Portnoy contributed to this report.