Maritime lawyers have long been familiar with the threat that seamen face from pirates, especially those off the Somali coastline. Now, for four Americans on a sailboat in these pirate-infested waters, that threat has become reality. The four were on a small private yacht, and had been sailing for the past six years. They were sailing in the waters off the Somali coastline, when they were attacked by a group of pirates. The four included a couple from Southern California and two other people from Seattle. According to the Los Angeles Times, the hijack took place several hundred miles off the Oman coastline. The hostages were able to send out an SOS after the attack, but have not been heard from since. There are fears that the pirates were able to take them to their lair. That makes the chances of rescuing them even dimmer, because rescue operations can be next to impossible to mount once the hostages have been taken to the pirates' den. The last time a US-flagged vessel was attacked, the resulting confrontation left three pirates dead, and one pirate captured. When the Maersk Alabama was attacked in 2009, several Naval warships were involved in the rescue effort to release the hostage crew members. The surviving pilot was sentenced to 33 years in prison. However, that daring rescue operation was carried out at sea, which may not be possible if these four hostages have indeed been taken to a lair on land. Update: The Los Angeles Times is now reporting that the four hostages have been confirmed dead. The US military had mounted a rescue operation in the Gulf of Aden, and while the military was in communication with the pirates, officers heard shots. The four had been shot dead by the pirates. According to reports, there were 19 pirates involved in this attack. Our condolences go out to the families of the four victims.
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