Sunday, April 12, 2009

Navy Snipers Kill 3 Pirates During Captain Rescue

from Fox News.com
by The Associated Press
Sunday, April 12, 2009

MOMBASA, Kenya — Navy snipers on the fantail of a destroyer cut down three Somali pirates in a lifeboat and rescued an American sea captain in a surprise nighttime assault in choppy seas Easter Sunday, ending a five-day standoff between a team of rogue gunmen and the world's most powerful military.

It was a stunning ending to an Indian Ocean odyssey that began when 53-year-old freighter Capt. Richard Phillips was taken hostage Wednesday by pirates who tried to hijack the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama. The Vermont native was held on a tiny lifeboat that began drifting precariously toward Somalia's anarchic, gun-plagued shores.

The operation, personally approved by President Barack Obama, quashed fears the saga could drag on for months and marked a victory for the U.S., which for days seemed powerless to resolve the crisis despite massing helicopter-equipped warships at the scene.

One of the pirates pointed an AK-47 at the back of Phillips, who was tied up and 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. The lifeboat was being towed by the Bainbridge at the time, he said.

A fourth pirate was in discussions with naval authorities about Phillips' fate when the rescue took place. He is in U.S. custody and could face could face life in a U.S. prison.

The rescue was a dramatic blow to the pirates who have preyed on international shipping and hold more than a dozen ships with about 230 foreign sailors. But it is unlikely to do much to quell the region's growing pirate threat, which has transformed one of the world's busiest shipping lanes into one of its most dangerous. It also risked provoking retaliatory attacks.

"This could escalate violence in this part of the world, no question about it," said Gortney, the commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command.

Abdullahi Lami, one of the pirates holding the Greek ship anchored in the Somali town of Gaan, said: "Every country will be treated the way it treats us. In the future, America will be the one mourning and crying," he told The Associated Press. "We will retaliate (for) the killings of our men."

Jamac Habeb, a 30-year-old self-proclaimed pirate, told the AP from one of Somalia's piracy hubs, Eyl, that: "From now on, if we capture foreign ships and their respective countries try to attack us, we will kill them (the hostages)."

"Now they became our number one enemy," Habeb said of U.S. forces.

Phillips was not hurt in several minutes of gunfire and the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet said he was resting comfortably on a U.S. warship after receiving a medical exam.

"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.

Obama said Phillips had courage that was "a model for all Americans" and he was pleased about the rescue, adding that the United States needs help from other countries to deal with the threat of piracy and to hold pirates accountable.
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