Ship's Commander Recounts Dramatic Rescue

Frank Castellano, commanding officer of the USS Bainbridge, says that one pirate's cooperation was an important step in a U.S. crew's dramatic rescue Sunday of Capt. Richard Phillips.

Three of the four Somali pirates holding Phillips aboard the lifeboat of his ship, the Maersk Alabama, were killed by snipers during the rescue operation. The fourth came aboard the USS Bainbridge earlier Sunday after U.S. forces made a supply run of food, water and clothes for Phillips, Castellano tells NPR's Renee Montagne.

The pirate "wanted to come back to the ship and talk about how we could get Capt. Phillips back," Castellano says. "It was all part of the hostage negotiations that occurred over the course of the event."

When asked whether the pirate had come to the USS Bainbridge to give himself up, Castellano says, "You know, I don't know really what went through his mind ... but he came, and that was a step in the direction to allow Capt. Richard Phillips to get home, and that was very important."

The mood of the captors fluctuated during the negotiations, Castellano says.

"It depended on the situation. Sometimes they were calm, and there was progress being made," Castellano says. "Other times, they were angry and seemed to be vengeful. They had their ups and downs, but when all is said and done, they are criminals."

The turning point in the mission came when it appeared that the captain's life was in imminent danger.

"[We] ultimately believed the pirates were about to kill the captain. That's what was the decision point," Castellano says.

Phillips' hands were bound and, just before his rescue, an AK-47 was seen pointed at the captain.

The moment of rescue "was joyous," Castellano says. "I can tell you there was almost a shout that went throughout the ship when we found out that we had success and that we had rescued Capt. Richard Phillips."

The USS Bainbridge is named for Commodore William Bainbridge, who fought against the Barbary pirates in the early 19th century. Castellano says the ship's history was a point of discussion throughout the event.

"His ship, now today, 206 years later, was fighting pirates over in the Indian Ocean. I could not imagine a U.S. naval vessel more fitting than Bainbridge to have participated in this mission," Castellano says.

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