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Two Somalis get life in prison for pirating ship

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two Somali men were sentenced Monday to spend the rest of their lives in a U.S. prison for their roles in the pirating of a yacht that ultimately resulted in the death of two American couples.

Ali Abdi Mohamed, 30, and Burhan Abdirahman Yusuf, 31, were sentenced to the life prison terms in federal court in Norfolk after they pleaded guilty earlier this year to piracy of the S/V Quest vessel off the Somali coast.

"Today's sentences send a message to all those who participate in piracy that armed attacks on the high seas carry lifelong consequences," U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride said in a statement.

A group of Somali and Yemeni pirates seized the yacht on February 18, and two went aboard the U.S. guided-missile warship USS Sterett to negotiate a possible ransom. But shooting broke out on the private yacht and the four Americans were killed.

The pirates were captured by U.S. military forces and brought to Norfolk for prosecution.

Nine others have also pleaded guilty to charges related to commandeering the yacht but not the shooting deaths of the Americans. They are all due to be sentenced in the coming weeks and also face mandatory life sentences.

Three Somalis have been charged with the shooting, kidnapping and murdering of the two couples.

Pirates operating off the coast of Somalia have hijacked vessels in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden, making tens of millions of dollars in ransoms by seizing ships, including oil tankers, and hostages.

(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky, editing by Jackie Frank)

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