Warship and Helicopters Tracking Yacht Hijacked by Somali Pirates

Two of the American hostages have been away for three years distributing bibles.

ByABC News
February 21, 2011, 8:49 AM

Feb. 21, 2011 — -- A U.S. Navy warship on Monday continued to track a yacht holding four Americans that was seized by pirates between the coasts of Yemen and Somalia, authorities reported.

The Americans, sailing the world on a Christian mission to distribute bibles, were ambushed by pirates in dangerous waters nearly 300 miles off the Somali coast. On board the yacht were Jean and Scot Adam from California and Phyllis MacKay and Bob Riggle from Washington state.

John Eggers, a friend of Phyllis Mackay, said on "Good Morning America" today that Phyllis and her husband "were on their own boat, that's why I was surprised about this. What I heard is that they hooked up I guess in India, and they joined the Adams, which is pretty common in the sailing industry I guess. People hook up on boats and take off."

"Phyllis has been sailing for quite a few years. She's been on leave now for about three years. She called one night and said she was going to go on sabbatical, said she'd be back in a year, year and a half, and now it's going on three years," said Eggers. "It was a surprise but she is a very independent, very strong woman. She was at the peak of her career in our industry so it was surprising to me and she was just very respected but she wanted to go on this leave with Bob and away she went."

The last time pirates targeted an American vessel - the Maersk Alabama in 2009 - the heist ended with all but one of the pirates killed by US navy sharp-shooters.

"They think they are Americans, they must be rich and able to pay whatever ransom is demanded. However, I think these pirates have made a grave mistake," said Steve Ganyard, former deputy assistant secretary of state, ABC News consultant. "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."

The challenge for international warships now is keeping the pirates from making it to the Somali shore where they and their hostages can easily disappear.

Pirates held British couple Paul and Rachel Chandler for 388 days until they were paid a ransom believed to be above $1 million.

Back in California, church-goers are praying for a quick return home for the hostages.

John Burnet, 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, Burnet told ABC News. "They have no idea whether they're going to live or die."