U.S. Ship Captain Freed, 3 Pirates Killed
REBECCA ROBERTS, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Rebecca Roberts.
A bold rescue on the high seas. Navy SEALs shot it out with Somali pirates today and freed the cargo ship captain who'd been held hostage. Three of the pirates are dead. One is in custody. The captain, Richard Phillips, is fine. He spent five days on a lifeboat with the pirates after his ship steamed safely away to an African port.
A Navy vice admiral, William E. Gortney, talked to reporters after the operation and he mentioned a note sent by Captain Phillips' wife, Andrea.
Mr. WILLIAM E. GORTNEY (Vice Admiral, United States Navy): The note said, Richard, your family loves you, your family is praying for you, your family is saving a chocolate Easter egg for you, unless your son eats it first.
Well, Mrs. Phillips, keep your son away from those Easter eggs. His dad's headed home.
ROBERTS: NPR's Mary Louise Kelly has been following the story, and she's with us now.
Mary Louise, what do we know about the rescue operation?
MARY LOUISE KELLY: Well, this is an extraordinary end to what has been an extraordinary story these past few days. Here's what we're told. At the time of the rescue, the lifeboat where Captain Phillips and these Somali pirates have spent these past few days, this lifeboat was apparently in very choppy waters, and the situation, according to Vice Admiral Gortney, was getting worse.
So they had actually tied the lifeboat onto the back of the USS Bainbridge. That's the big missile destroyer, the Navy ship that's been on the scene these past few days.
The Bainbridge was about 25, 30 meters ahead, and this rope was towing it, trying to get it toward calmer waters. As this was happening, there were Navy SEAL snipers on the back of the Bainbridge, and they were able to get a clear view of what was happening on the lifeboat and observed one of the pirates leveling an AK-47 at Captain Phillips' back.
Onboard the Bainbridge, the commander decided the captain was in imminent danger. They had orders, authority to act if they thought that was the case. And so, we're told the order came from the Bainbridge to shoot, and they did.
ROBERTS: Now, we've heard that Captain Phillips is resting comfortably. Do you have any more details on his status?
KELLY: Yeah, he is amazingly okay. We're told he's not just resting comfortably, but that he's had a shower. He's got clean clothes. He's apparently feeling much better, as you would expect.
He was initially taken to the USS Bainbridge, this missile destroyer, and then shortly afterward was transferred via helicopter onto the USS Boxer, which is a bigger ship, almost a small aircraft carrier.
So he's there. He is resting. We're told he's called home. He's been on the phone to his family and to his company. And they told us, you know, that the word from him is he says, look, I'm just the by line. That's his words. He says the real heroes here are the Navy, the Navy SEALs, the people who brought me home.
ROBERTS: When Vice Admiral Gortney gave the press conference, he talked a little bit about how the rescue happened.
Mr. GORTNEY: While working through the negotiation 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.
ROBERTS: Three were killed. A fourth one was captured. What do you know about him?
KELLY: Well, here's the interesting thing. He was not killed because he was not on the lifeboat at that point. He was already onboard the USS Bainbridge. Apparently, he had been ferried off the lifeboat at some earlier point.
The Navy has all these past few days been using what they call a RIB, a rigid inflatable boat, that they were shuttling back and forth between the Bainbridge and the lifeboat where Captain Phillips and the pirate were.
They'd been moving food and medicine and water and even clothes onto this lifeboat. At some point, apparently, this one pirate got on, was ferried over to the Bainbridge, and we're told they were using him during the negotiations, that he was helping them talk and try to figure out what a peaceful resolution to this would be.
It was obviously not a peaceful resolution from the pirate point of view but a very good one from the point of view of the U.S. Navy and, of course, Captain Phillips.
ROBERTS: NPR's Mary Louise Kelly, thanks so much.
KELLY: You're welcome. Thank you, Rebecca.
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