Two cruising sailors from Seattle are aboard a yacht hijacked by Somali pirates off the coast of Oman and now heading to Somalia, trailed by a U.S. warship.
Phyllis Macay had been keeping her mother updated by e-mail from ports of call on Macay’s grand adventures around the world.
The sporadic messages during the three-year voyage, as well as her blogs, were the Seattle woman’s way of sharing all she was seeing and doing, while easing a mother’s fear for a daughter’s safety.
Macay sent her last e-mail home just before Valentine’s Day, her niece Nina Crossland, of Oakley, Calif., said Sunday. Macay, 59, and her partner, Bob Riggle, 67, apparently had joined California couple Scott and Jean Adam aboard their yacht, the Quest, on a route from Mumbai to Oman.
On Friday, Macay’s mother, who lives in San Francisco, received the call she hoped would never come: The sailboat her daughter and three others were on had been hijacked by Somali pirates.
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“My grandmother is very, very anxious right now, as you can imagine,” Crossland said. “We all are.”
The Associated Press reported Sunday that a U.S. warship was shadowing the Quest as it moved closer to the Somali coast.
If the yacht reaches Somalia’s shores, the four American hostages likely would be taken inland, where a quick resolution is much less likely.
A British sailing couple who were released in November spent 388 days in pirate captivity.
In her last e-mail, Macay told her mother that they had “gotten information about the possibility of pirates before starting down their current route,” Crossland said Sunday.
“This is something these guys spend a lot of time thinking about,” she said. “They do their research and carefully plan. She told my grandmother they’d be far enough off and thought they would be OK.”
The Quest was in the waters between Yemen and northern Somalia, two pirates and a Somali government official told The Associated Press. One pirate who gave his name only as Hassan said a warship with a helicopter on its deck was near the Quest.
His claims could not be verified independently, and U.S. officials did not release any information about the yacht. A U.S. Embassy spokesman Saturday said officials were assessing options and “possible responses.”
Hassan said he is speaking directly with the pirates aboard the hijacked yacht. Two other sources — a second pirate who gave his name as Bile Hussein and a Somali official who asked not to be named — said the Quest was between Yemen and Somalia and heading closer to Puntland, a haven for pirates on Somalia’s northern tip.
Americans rarely have been targeted by Somali pirates. The last attack against a U.S. crew, in 2009, ended with Navy sharpshooters killing three pirates and rescuing the ship’s captain.
A captured pirate, Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse, was taken to New York and was sentenced Wednesday to 33 years in a U.S. prison.
The organizers of an international yacht race called the Blue Water Rally said the Quest had been taking part in the race but left Tuesday to chart an independent course from India to Oman. The yacht’s owners, the Adams, have been sailing the world with a yacht full of Bibles since 2004.
Pirates have increased attacks off the coast of East Africa in recent years despite an international flotilla of warships dedicated to protecting vessels and stopping the assaults. Multimillion-dollar ransoms are fueling the trade, and the prices for releasing a ship and hostages have risen sharply. A website, Sail-World.com, said a request for an escort on the route had been denied by navies patrolling the Indian Ocean.
Pirates now hold 30 ships and more than 660 hostages, not counting the attack against the Quest.
Macay’s niece, Crossland, said the family frets over news reports that the pirates may try to trade her aunt and the others for the pirates’ captured comrade, Muse.
“We know they want money,” Crossland said, though she added there have been no ransom demands made, and federal authorities remain in contact with her family.
Crossland said her aunt had long talked about sailing around the world.
She and longtime friend Riggle, a retired veterinarian and sailboat owner, researched and planned for three years of cruising. They joined an international community of cruising sailors who sometimes swap crew depending on where they want to go. She said her aunt and Riggle had just joined up with the Adams.
Her aunt, she said, loves the adventure, and the family had been able to follow along through blogs on her website, www.gaiaworldtour.net, that took them to areas throughout the Mediterranean and the Red Sea and into Greece, Egypt and Africa. “She finds it amazing to see different countries and have different cultural experiences, eat different types of food,” Crossland said. “She’s swam with the sharks. She just loves it.”
Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.
Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or firstname.lastname@example.org