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Pirates fired on San Diego-based destroyer in clash leading to sailors' deaths

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USS Sterett (photo courtesy US Navy) USS Sterett (photo courtesy US Navy)

 SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The high-seas naval clash with Somali pirates that led to the death of a Marina del Rey-based missionary couple Tuesday started with a rocket-propelled grenade fired at the San Diego-based destroyer USS Sterett, Navy officials said.

The Sterett had been shadowing Jean and Scott Adams' 58-foot sailboat Quest since it was taken in open waters off Oman on Friday, and Navy SEALS boarded the vessel in response to the RPG attack.

But Navy Vice Adm. Mark Fox said it was too late - the couple and sailing mates Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle of Seattle had been fatally shot.  

Fox said Navy personnel heard the shots fired before Quest was boarded.

"There were no reported injuries to U.S. naval personnel or any damage to U.S. ships," Fox, speaking from Bahrain, said today.

Negotiations with the pirates were under way at the time, and one even reportedly spent the previous night aboard the 509-foot Arleigh-Burke class destroyer, named for a naval officer known for his service against Barbary pirates in the first years of the U.S. Navy.

In response to RPG attack, four pirates were killed and 15 were captured, naval officials said.

On Tuesday morning, the 844-foot amphibious assault ship USS Boxer and two other ships were scheduled to deploy for seven month. Part of the group's mission is battle piracy.

For years, the Gulf of Aden has grown increasingly dangerous. Somalia has been in anarchy for years, with pirates taking dozens of ships - even oil tankers and container ships - and hundreds of hostages.

The killings, however, are unusual for the pirates, who are apparently more interested in money than anything else.

In November, a British yachting couple reportedly paid Somali pirates $1 million in ransom to be freed.

Sterett and its crew of about 300 left San Diego in October on its first active-duty deployment.

The Adams, who had been cruising for more than six years, had been sailing in an organized flotilla of yachters headed for the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal, but they broke off from the group, with plans to reprovision in Dijbouti.

The couple, devout Catholics, had been distributing Bibles in far-flung around the world.

"It was their great work," a priest at St. Monica's Catholic Church said.

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