February 23, 2011

Controversy about Quest

NYT "When the two pirate leaders boarded the U.S.S. Sterett off the coast of Somalia on Monday, American officials thought they were headed for a breakthrough in the four-day standoff with a seafaring gang that had seized four Americans vacationing on their 58-foot yacht." By ERIC SCHMITT

'But an F.B.I. hostage-rescue negotiator aboard the Sterett came to believe the two Somalis were not serious. So the Americans put them in the brig and told the pirates back on the yacht to send over someone they could do business with.

'What happened next is sharply contested and raises questions about the crucial decision to detain the pirate leaders.

'American officials said the pirates on the yacht, called the Quest, seemed relieved — even “exceptionally calm” — when told their senior commander was cooling his heels in a Navy brig.

'But hours later, panic ensued among young pirates. Some Americans theorized after the fact that a fight might have broken out among out the gang members, suddenly leaderless, and fearing they were about to be overtaken by the four Navy warships that surrounded them. One person who has talked to associates of the pirates said their leader had told them that if he did not return, they should kill the hostages, though American officials say they do not know that to be the case.'

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