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NORFOLK, Virginia (Reuters) - The last of the Somali pirates convicted of killing four Americans aboard a yacht sailing off the Horn of Africa in 2011 have been sentenced in federal court to multiple life sentences, authorities said on Thursday.
Prosecutors originally sought the death penalty, but the jury that found the men guilty in July of piracy, hijacking and murder recommended life sentences instead.
The victims were retiree Scott Adam, 70, of Marina del Rey, California, with his wife Jean Adam, and two friends, Phyllis Macay and Robert Riggle of Seattle. They were sailing around the world distributing Bibles.
Pirates boarded the yacht on February 18, 2011. Prosecutors said the hijackers intended to take their hostages to Somalia and hold them for ransom.
After getting a distress signal from the craft, the U.S. Navy dispatched vessels to the Americans' aid.
After four days, during which negotiations between the Navy and the pirates broke down, the pirates fired a rocket-propelled grenade toward one of the Navy vessels, the USS Sterett.
Gunfire broke out on the yacht, and Navy SEALs went aboard in an unsuccessful attempt to save the hostages. They died on February 22, 2011.
In U.S. District Court, Abukar Osman Beyle, 33, and Shani Nurani Shiekh Abrar, 31, and Ahmed Muse Salad, 27, were each given 21 life prison sentences, plus 30 years, this week, according to a statement from Dana Boente, acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.
"The multiple, consecutive life sentences imposed today send a clear message that piracy, hostage-taking, and murder on the high seas will not be tolerated," Boente said in the statement.
Besides the three Somali men sentenced this week, 11 others who were captured aboard the sailboat have pleaded guilty and are serving life sentences as well.
Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Ken Wills