MOMBASA, Kenya – U.S. Navy snipers opened fire and killed three pirates holding an American captain at gunpoint in a lifeboat, delivering the skipper unharmed and ending a five-day high-seas hostage drama on Easter Sunday.
The pirates were pointing AK-47s at Capt. Richard Phillips and he was in "imminent danger" of being killed when the commander of the nearby USS Bainbridge made the split-second decision to order his men to shoot, Vice Adm. Bill Gortney said.
Phillips' crew, who said they had escaped the pirates after he offered himself as a hostage, erupted in cheers aboard their ship in Mombasa, Kenya. Some waved an American flag and fired flares in celebration. A lawn sign in the captain's hometown of Underhill, Vermont that read "Pray for Captain Phillips' release and safe return home" was changed to read, "Capt. Phillips rescued and safe."
The U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet said Phillips, 53, was resting comfortably after a medical exam on the San Diego-based USS Boxer in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia. Gortney said the captain had been "tied up inside the lifeboat" over much of the ordeal.
"I'm just the byline. The real heroes are the Navy, the Seals, those who have brought me home," Phillips said by phone to Maersk Line Limited President and CEO John Reinhart, the company head told reporters. A photo released by the Navy showed Phillips unharmed and shaking hands with the commanding officer of the USS Bainbridge.