Pirates Brutally End Yachting Dream
By ADAM NAGOURNEY and JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
Published: February 22, 2011
LOS ANGELES — Jean and Scott Adam shared a dream through 15 years of marriage: to retire, build a boat and sail the world. And that is precisely what they did, heading out in 2004 from Marina Del Rey, Calif., on a custom-built 58-foot yacht for a permanent vacation that brought them to exotic islands and remote coastlines: Fiji, Micronesia, China, Phuket.
Phyllis Macay and Robert A. Riggle, above, were killed along with Jean and Scott Adam, the owners of the yacht Quest.
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The 58-foot Quest had departed from a convoy of yachts that was assembled to ward off attacks by pirates.
Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Jean and Scott Adam. Mr. Adam took a security course last year from Blue Water Rallies, the organizer of the rally he had been on.
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“And now: Angkor Wat! And Burma!” Mrs. Adam wrote just before Christmas, her blog post bustling with characteristic excitement.
The dream came to a brutal end on Tuesday when the Adams and their crew — Phyllis Macay and Robert A. Riggle of Seattle — were killed by pirates off the coast of Somalia in one of the most violent episodes since the modern-day piracy epidemic began several years ago, American officials said.
It is not clear why the pirates killed their hostages, either accidentally during a firefight or possibly out of revenge for the Somali pirates killed by American sharpshooters in a hostage-taking in 2009.
United States naval forces had been shadowing the hijacked yacht, called the Quest, and as soon as they saw a burst of gunfire on board, American Special Operations forces rushed to the yacht in assault craft, shot one of the pirates and knifed another. But all four hostages were already dead or fatally wounded.
Few people who travel the high seas these days are unaware of the dangers from pirates, though it seemed a risk the Adams were willing to take in the spirit of adventure and excitement. “She said to us, ‘If anything happens to us on these travels, just know that we died living our dream,’ ” said Richard Savage, Mrs. Adam’s brother-in-law from her first marriage. “They were aware that this kind of thing has risks. But they were living their dream.”
Still, in a decision that troubled friends and family members, the Quest had departed from a convoy of yachts that was assembled to ward off attacks by pirates in those waters — such maritime convoys are known as rallies — to go off on their own into some of the most dangerous waters in the world.
Mr. Adam took a security course last year from Blue Water Rallies, the organizer of the rally he had been on, and friends said he often turned off his G.P.S. instrument because pirates had learned to use them as homing devices.
“They were not risk-seekers,” said Vivian Callahan, who had sailed with the Adams as a crew member over the years. “They were very well aware of the dangers and I can’t imagine them straying from the rally unless conditions were very serious."
The Adams had been married about 15 years. They had both been married once before. He had a daughter, she had two sons.
Before their retirement, Mrs. Adam was a dentist in Marina Del Rey, a graduate of dental school at the University of California, Los Angeles. He worked as a film production manager, on such films as “The Goonies” and “Deliverance,” before leaving the business to attend divinity school; he received a master’s of divinity in 2000 and a master’s of theology in 2010.
Indeed, for the Adams, this was as much a voyage of faith as it was one of adventure. They would load the Quest up with tons of Bibles and distribute them as they traveled the world.
“They would stop in these small islands and connect with the church there, which were in isolated places and really welcomed them,” said Richard Peace, a professor of ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary. “Scott would preach at times for them and being a doctoral student, he would teach in Bible colleges. This was really a major part of their travels.”
Still, friends said that the Adams were not on a mission of proselytization.
“They were very much in love and shared both a love of the sea and a love of God’s word,” Samantha Carlson, a fellow sailor, said in an e-mail to friends. She added: “They were NOT proselytizing or converting anyone.”
Ms. Macay and Mr. Riggle signed on to the Quest as crew members late last year, providing needed assistance and companionship on these voyages, which are often rigorous and lonely. Both Mr. Adam, 70, and Mrs. Adam, 66, were in relatively good shape, though Mrs. Adam battled with intense bouts of seasickness.
“She certainly didn’t let that stop her,” Mr. Savage said, adding with a laugh, “It’s kind of bizarre.”
Ms. Macay, 59, was a freelance interior designer and Mr. Riggle, 67, a retired veterinarian. They had been a couple in the past but were simply crewmates at the time of their deaths, friends said. They had met at the Seattle Singles Yacht Club and had been at sea together for most of the past three and a half years.
“Originally, it was supposed to be a year-and-a-half long, but she kept extending it,” said Joe Macay, her brother. “She wasn’t a thrill-seeker trying to live on the edge. She was just a person who loved sailing and was trying to live the life she loved.”
Don Jordan, the director of the Seattle Animal Shelter, said Mr. Riggle had served as a contract veterinarian there for the past 15 to 20 years. “He was a natural fit for a vet, kind and compassionate,” Mr. Jordan said.
The American Navy has pleaded with shipowners to stick to designated shipping lanes when passing through the Arabian Sea, where pirates continue to strike with impunity, despite the presence of dozens of warships. Yachters who knew the Adams said they had been, given these times, inclined to ship their boats overland to avoid dangerous waters or travel in rallies.
“I really have no idea why they would leave the rally when they specifically joined the rally to be in a safer environment,” said Jeff Allen, a close friend. “I hope this sends a message that you really shouldn’t be trying to go through that area.”
Friends of Ms. Macay and Mr. Riggle said that they were only serving as crew members. Cindy Kirkham, a friend of Ms. Macay and her family, said, “The family is very upset that people are suggesting that they made the decision.”
But Mr. Macay said that it was not uncommon for boats to leave rallies and return. He said his sister had “expressed concern about pirates — anybody sailing in that Blue Water Rally knows that a portion of risk goes along with it.”
He added, “She knew the risk involved, and accepted it.”
The killings underscore how lawless the seas have become in that part of the world. Just about every week another ship gets hijacked. More than 50 vessels, from fishing trawlers and traditional wooden dhows to giant freighters and oil tankers, are currently being held captive, with more than 800 hostages, according to Ecoterra International, a nonprofit maritime group that monitors pirate attacks.
“At the moment, it looks like it’s getting out of control,” said Capt. Pottengal Mukundan, director of the International Maritime Bureau, which has tracked piracy at sea since 1991.
The Somali seas are now known as the most perilous in the world, crawling with young gunmen in lightweight skiffs cruising around with machine guns, looking for quarry.
The Adams had been sailing the world on the Quest, a Davidson 58 Pilot House Sloop, that they had custom built for $1.5 million in New Zealand in 2001, using money they earned from selling their homes.
“When designing the yacht, we had to make sure that the yacht trimmed well when hundreds of Bibles were stored at the beginning of each adventure: It amounted to tons of weight,” said Kevin Dibley, the owner of Dibley Marine Ltd., who was brought on to assist the project.
On Friday, the Quest sent out an S O S, 275 miles from the coast of Oman, in the open seas between Mumbai and Djibouti. A mother ship had been observed near the yacht when it was hijacked by pirates in a smaller craft, maritime officials said, but it disappeared once warships drew close, or was captured.
Either way, the pirates were blocked from escaping and that may be one reason tensions rose on board, said Andrew Mwangura, the maritime editor of Somalia Report, a Web site that monitors piracy attacks.
“There were a big number of gunmen on a small yacht,” Mr. Mwangura said. “They could have been fighting over food, water, space. And with military choppers overhead, people get jumpy.”
According to Vice Adm. Mark Fox, the commander of United States Naval Forces Central Command, shortly after the Quest was hijacked, the Navy began talking to the pirates’ financier as well as elders from the pirates’ village. Many pirate crews are paid by wealthy Somali businessmen who later get a cut of the ransom.
On Monday, two of the pirates boarded a naval destroyer that had pulled within 600 yards of the Quest to negotiate further.
But the talks seemed to unravel on Tuesday morning, when a pirate aboard the Quest fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the destroyer. Almost immediately gunfire erupted from inside the yacht’s cabin, Admiral Fox said, and several pirates then stepped up to the bow with their hands up.
Fifteen Special Operations officers in two high-speed assault craft rushed in. When they boarded the Quest, they shot and killed one pirate and stabbed another.
Once aboard, the American forces found two pirates already dead, apparently killed by their comrades. The pirates were in disarray, the American military said, and a fight had broken out among them.
The deaths of the Adams was particularly striking to many of their friends, considering the kind of mission they were on.
“The irony of all this is that Scott and Jean, like so many of us out here cruising the world, are out here to meet the people, learn about their culture and help those we meet in whatever way we can,” said Mr. Allen.
Adam Nagourney reported from Los Angeles, and Jeffrey Gettleman from Nairobi, Kenya. Reporting was contributed by Eric Schmitt and Elisabeth Bumiller from Washington; William Yardley from Seattle; Jennifer Medina from Marina del Rey, Calif.; Ian Lovett, Noah Gilbert and Ana Facio Contreras from Los Angeles; and J. David Goodman from New York.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: February 22, 2011
A previous version of this article misspelled the name of the Navy warship that had been shadowing the Quest. The vessel is the Sterett, not the Starrett. It also misspelled the name of one of the Americans who was killed aboard the yacht. It is Phyllis Macay, not Phyllis Mackay.
A version of this article appeared in print on February 23, 2011, on page A1 of the New York edition.