Seven Somalis have pleaded not guilty to piracy, kidnapping and firearms charges in the February hijacking of a yacht that left four Americans, including two from Marina del Rey, dead.
They entered their pleas Tuesday in federal court. Seven others charged in the case with them are expected to enter pleas later in the day. A trial has been set for May 17, although prosecutors want it pushed back.
If convicted of piracy, the 13 Somalis and one Yemeni face mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole.
The U.S. Attorney's Office has said more charges could also be filed in the future. An indictment says at least three of the men shot and killed the Americans aboard the yacht several hundred miles south of the Middle Eastern nation of Oman.
U.S. officials had negotiated with the alleged captors via radio, but the situation turned deadly after a rocket-propelled grenade was fired from the Quest at the USS Sterett, a guided-missile destroyer 600 yards away. The RPG missed and almost immediately afterward small arms fire was heard coming from the yacht, said Vice Adm. Mark Fox, commander of the U.S. 5th Fleet in Bahrain.
Several pirates then appeared on deck with their hands up. U.S. naval forces boarded the vessel and tried to provide lifesaving care to the Americans, but they died, Fox said. No U.S. forces were injured or killed.
The Quest was the home of Jean and Scott Adam, of Marina del Rey. The two had been sailing around the world since December 2004. Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle, of Seattle, Washington, had recently joined the Adams.
Around Christmas, the Quest joined the Blue Water Rally, an around-the-world race. But race organizers said the Quest recently left the race despite what Fox said were warnings about the dangers of sailing in Horn of Africa region.
The Blue Water Rally said in a statement that though yachtsmen are discouraged from sailing in the region, the only other choices are to sail around the stormy and dangerous tip of South Africa or sail back across the Pacific.
The Adams were skilled and experienced sailors, having traveled from Panama in 2005 to Fiji in 2007 and Cambodia last year. They most recently sailed from Thailand to Sri Lanka and India, and were on their way to Oman when captured.
The Adams ran a Bible ministry and had been distributing Bibles to schools and churches in remote villages in areas including the Fiji Islands, Alaska, New Zealand, Central America and French Polynesia.