SY Quest incident
Part of Piracy in Somalia, Operation Ocean Shield, Operation Enduring Freedom – Horn of Africa
Date4–22 February 2011
off Oman, Indian Ocean

American victory;

  • Yacht recaptured
  • Capture and arrest of pirates
  • Hostages killed by pirates
 United States Somali pirates
Commanders and leaders
United States Dee Mewbourne Mohamud Salad Ali[1]
1 supercarrier
1 cruiser
2 destroyers
1 yacht
Casualties and losses
None 4 killed
15 captured
1 yacht captured
Civilian casualties: 4 killed

The SY Quest incident[2] occurred in February 2011 when Somali Pirates seized the American yacht SY Quest (s/v Quest) and four United States citizens. In response the United States Navy, supporting Operation Enduring Freedom, dispatched the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise and three other ships with orders to free the hostages. Though American forces were capable of neutralizing the threat, all of the hostages were killed. The SY Quest was the first American vessel to be captured by Somali pirates since the Maersk Alabama hijacking in 2009.[3]


According to American reports, the SY Quest was captured on 18 February 2011 at 13.23 UTC by nineteen pirates in a mothership, 190 to 240 miles off the coast of Oman at approximately 18°00′N 61°02′E / 18.000°N 61.033°E / 18.000; 61.033 in the Indian Ocean.[3][4] Pirates then tried sailing the SY Quest towards Puntland. Sometime thereafter the Enterprise, the guided missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf and the guided missile destroyers USS Sterett and USS Bulkeley were sent to the area and arrived several days later on or about 21 February. Captain Dee Mewbourne, of the Enterprise, then proceeded with opening negotiations with the pirates, at which time two Somalis went aboard the Sterett. On the following morning, 22 February, while negotiations were still taking place, a pirate aboard the SY Quest fired a rocket propelled grenade at the Sterett from 600 yards away but it missed. Almost immediately afterward gunfire was heard aboard the yacht so a boarding party was sent in on a raft and they boarded the SY Quest. A brief skirmish occurred resulting in the deaths of two pirates, one by rifle fire and the other by a combat knife. Thirteen pirates surrendered in the process and were taken into custody. After boarding, the American navy personnel discovered Phyllis Macay and Robert Riggle, of Seattle, Washington and the SY Quest's owners, Jean and Scott Adam of Marina del Rey, California.[3][5]

All four of the captives had been wounded by gunfire so navy air crew members attempted to provide medical assistance but were unsuccessful. The bodies of two other pirates were also found aboard the SY Quest though United States Navy officials had no explanation for their deaths. Vice Admiral Mark I. Fox, issued a statement a few days later saying that the American forces involved had no intention of attacking but were obligated after hearing small arms fire. The pirate leader Mohamud, in Somalia, claimed that the hostages were killed because the American warships started to attack and he told Reuters that "we ordered our comrades to kill the four Americans before they got killed." The leader Farah, in Bayla, Puntland also spoke with Reuters over the telephone and said "I lost the money I invested and my comrades. No forgiveness for the Americans. Revenge. Our business will go on", adding that he had spent $110,000 on food, weapons and salaries for the hijacking. Thirteen of the pirates were found to be Somalis and the other a Yemeni; they were sent to Norfolk, Virginia to face charges of piracy and kidnapping.[3][6]

USS Leyte Gulf alongside USS Enterprise while conducting flight operations in the Red Sea on 3 March 2011.
USS Leyte Gulf alongside USS Enterprise while conducting flight operations in the Red Sea on 3 March 2011.

The three captured Somalis, Mohamud Salad Ali, Mohamud Hirs Issa Ali and Ali Abdi Mohamed, pleaded guilty in a US court.[7]


On 8 July 2013 Ahmed Muse Salad, a/k/a "Afmagalo", 27, Abukar Osman Beyle, 33, and Shani Nurani Shiekh Abrar, 31–those who actually killed the 4 hostages–were found guilty of piracy, murder within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States, violence against maritime navigation, conspiracy to commit violence against maritime navigation resulting in death, kidnapping resulting in death, conspiracy to commit kidnapping, hostage taking resulting in death, conspiracy to commit hostage taking resulting in death and multiple firearms offenses.[8] All three were sentenced in November 2013 and all received 21 life sentences, 19 consecutive life sentences and 2 concurrent life sentences, and 30 years consecutive.[8]

According to U.S. federal law, committing an act of piracy resulting in death has a mandatory life sentence.[9]

See also


  1. ^ "Somali Pirate Leader Gets Life in Prison for Yacht Hijacking". Fox News. 4 October 2011.
  2. ^ "Quest incident – the final moments". 28 February 2011. Retrieved 19 May 2011.
  3. ^ a b c d "4 American hostages killed by Somali pirates". World news-Africa-Somalia. NBC News. 22 February 2011. Retrieved 19 May 2011.
  4. ^ "Blue Water Rally Yacht and four crew seajacked in the Indian Ocean". 18 February 2011. Retrieved 18 February 2011.
  5. ^ "Americans slain by captors on hijacked yacht; pirates killed, arrested". CNN. 22 February 2011. Retrieved 19 May 2011.
  6. ^ "14 pirates indicted in Virginia for deadly attack on Americans". 10 March 2011. Retrieved 19 May 2011.
  7. ^ "Somali pirates plead guilty in US to Quest hijacking". BBC News. 20 May 2011. Retrieved 21 May 2011.
  8. ^ a b "Somali Pirates Sentenced To Multiple Life Sentences in Murder of Four Americans Aboard SV QUEST" (Press release). 14 November 2013. Retrieved 15 November 2013.
  9. ^ Nasaw, Daniel. "Somali pirates face hard time in US prison." BBC. 3 October 2011. Retrieved on 6 February 2016.

10. "Hunter Killer". Novel by Lt-Col McCurley and Kevin Maurer