NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Somali piracy is getting bloodier.

On Tuesday, four American pleasure cruisers were killed aboard a yacht hijacked by pirates three days earlier, according to the U.S. Navy. The boat was seized in the Arabian Sea, a hundred or so miles off the coast of Oman.
Two victims of the pirate killings Tuesday, Robert Riggle and Phyllis McCay, as seen in a 2005 photo on board a yacht in California

Alerted to the hijacking, four U.S. warships, including the aircraft carrier Enterprise, tailed the yacht for three days and attempted to negotiate with the pirates for the release of the four hostages -- Scott and Jean Adam, of Southern California, and Robert Riggle and Phyllis Mackay, of Seattle.

>>The Pirates' Toll: High Stakes on the High Seas

The negotiations turned bloody when naval personnel heard gunfire aboard the yacht Tuesday morning. When a rescue boat was dispatched from the warship, a firefight broke out between the pirates and U.S. forces. Two pirates were killed. When the naval personnel eventually boarded the yacht, they found the four Americans dead of gunshot wounds. The navy took 13 pirates into custody.

Last year, the U.S. Navy was able to recapture a merchant vessel held by Somali pirates without any loss of life.

The deaths on Tuesday come after the bloodiest year of Somali piracy on record, according to the annual report on global pirate activity put out by the International Maritime Bureau. In 2010, eight crewmembers or hostages were killed during attacks by suspected Somali pirates, according to the report. That's up from four in 2009.

>>Pirates Attack! Mapping the Brigands

Somali pirates have generally focused their efforts on commercial vessels with the hopes of extracting massive ransoms from corporate ship owners. There have been relatively few hijackings of private yachts by Somali pirates.

In 2009, pirates captured a British couple sailing on a yacht in the Gulf of Aden and held them for more than a year on shore in a Somali camp. In 2008, a French yacht piloted by crew members toward the Red Sea was held for a week before its owner paid a reported $2.5 million ransom.

-- Written by Scott Eden in New York

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