The captain of an American cargo ship held hostage by armed Somali pirates was rescued on Sunday by United States Navy personnel, who killed three of his captors, government and shipping officials said.
Richard Phillips, 53, had been held for more than four days by the pirates.
“This is truly a very happy Easter for the Phillips family,” said Alison McColl, an official with the ship’s owner, Maersk Line, Limited, who has been representing Captain Phillips’ family. “They are all just so happy and relieved.”
Maersk was told at 1:30 p.m. Sunday that Captain Phillips had been rescued, the company said in a statement. “John Reinhart, President and Chief Executive Officer of Maersk Line, Limited, called Captain Phillips’ wife, Andrea, to tell her the good news,” the statement continued. “The crew of the Maersk Alabama was jubilant when they received word.”
Captain Phillips was rescued and placed aboard the United States Navy destroyer Bainbridge, CNN reported. He was then flown by helicopter to another Navy ship, and has contacted his family and received a routine medical examination.
“Maersk Line, Limited is deeply grateful to the Navy, the F.B.I. and so many others for their tireless efforts to secure Richard’s freedom,” the company said.”
Only three pirates were in the motorized lifeboat where Mr. Phillips was being held because one had surrendered early this morning, according to a Kenyan maritime official who had been monitoring the situation and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Mr. Phillips was being held in a covered part at the back of the lifeboat, the official said, and one pirate typically stayed with him under cover. The lifeboat had gotten as close as 20 miles to shore, drifting after running out of fuel, off Gara’ad, Somalia.
On Saturday night, the Navy fired warning shots at the lifeboat, followed by a brief exchange of fire, the official said. Hours afterward, one pirate who was either injured or scared jumped off the boat and surrendered to Navy personnel, the Kenyan official said.
Around 7 p.m. Somali time, just after dark, U.S. Navy personnel opened fire, killing all three pirates, the official said.
The Justice Department will be reviewing evidence to decide whether charges will be brought against the surviving pirate, a Justice Department official told CNN.
In Underhill, Vt., Captain Phillips’ hometown, Ms. McColl said that Andrea Phillips had talked on the phone with her husband since his rescue.
Minutes before Ms. McColl made her statement, a car pulled up to the house and three youngsters jumped out and ran into the house in jubilation.
Mr. Reinhart, Maersk’s president, will hold a media briefing in Norfolk, Va., later on Sunday.
The pirates — demanding $2 million in ransom — seized Mr. Phillips on Wednesday and escaped the cargo ship in a motorized lifeboat.
A standoff between the pirates and the United States Navy then ensued until Saturday when negotiations between American officials and the pirates broke down, according to Somali officials, after the Americans insisted that the pirates be arrested and a group of elders representing the pirates refused.
The negotiations broke down hours after the pirates fired on a small United States Navy vessel that had tried to approach the lifeboat not long after sunrise Saturday in the Indian Ocean.
The cargo ship, the Maersk Alabama, a 17,000-ton cargo vessel, pulled into port at 8:30 Saturday evening in Mombasa, Kenya, with its 19 remaining American crew members.
When the crew members heard that their captain had been freed, they placed an American flag over the rail of the top of the ship. They whistled and pumped their fists in the air, The Associated Press reported.
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In Somalia, Abdirahman Muhammad Faroole, president of the Puntland region, where some of the pirates were thought to be from, said that on Sunday afternoon, American officials whom he’d been talking to throughout the crisis abruptly told him to stop pursuing negotiations with tribal elders affiliated with the pirates. Mr. Faroole was told the Americans “had another action,” and said it was no longer necessary for him to work with the elders, he said.
More than 250 hostages are being held by various Somalian pirate groups, including the 16 crew members of an Italian tugboat captured on Saturday.
One pirate named Ali, in Galkaiyo, Somalia, said the American Navy rescue won’t discourage other Somali pirate groups at all.
“As long as there is no just government in Somalia, we will still be the coast guard,” he said, adding: “If we get an American, we will take revenge.”
Reporting was contributed by Serge F. Kovaleski from Underhill, Vt.; Mark Mazzetti from Washington; and employees of The New York Times from Somalia.