Captain safe on U.S. ship after escape

April 12, 2009 at 8:25 PM
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MOGADISHU, Somalia, April 12 (UPI) -- The U.S. cargo ship captain kidnapped by pirates off the Somali coast was on board the USS Boxer Sunday after his escape from his captors, U.S. officials said.

Capt. Richard Phillips, 53, of Vermont, was uninjured after jumping from the lifeboat in which he had been held since Wednesday, when pirates overtook the ship he commanded, the Maersk Alabama. During Phillips' escape, U.S. Navy snipers shot and killed three of his captors.

Citing a defense official with knowledge of the matter, CNN reported Sunday that the fourth pirate was aboard the USS Bainbridge much of the day prior to Phillips' escape and rescue, telling negotiators he would not rejoin the other pirates.

The Navy marksmen fired on the kidnappers when one of the Somalis "had an AK-47 leveled at" Phillips' back, a U.S. official said.

"While working through the negotiations process tonight, the on-scene commander from the Bainbridge made the decision that the captain's life was in immediate danger, and the three pirates were killed," Navy Vice Adm. Bill Gortney told reporters. "The pirate who surrendered earlier today is being treated humanely; his counterparts who continued to fight paid with their lives."

Gortney said President Barack Obama had given standing orders for "decisive action" if Phillips was in "imminent danger."

Obama issued a statement, saying Phillips' safety "has been our principal concern, and I know this is a welcome relief to his family and his crew." Obama said he was "very proud of the efforts of the U.S. military and many other departments and agencies who worked tirelessly to secure Captain Phillips' safe recovery."

Talks to free Phillips stalled Saturday when representatives for the pirates refused American requests the pirates be arrested and handed to Somalia officials in Puntland with no ransom paid, The New York Times reported Sunday.

Phillips -- who offered himself as a hostage after pirates overtook his vessel Wednesday -- had been floating in a lifeboat with the four armed pirates in the Indian Ocean about 30 miles off the port of Harardhere, a pirate haven in northeastern Somalia.

Adm. Rick Gurnon, head of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, where Phillips trained, said more than 200 maritime workers are still being held captive at sea, CNN said.

A Justice Department spokesman said U.S. prosecutors will review the record to determine whether to prosecute the captured pirate in the United States.

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