Hostage Captain Was in ‘Imminent Danger’ at Time of Rescue
By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 12, 2009 The captain of the Maersk-Alabama cargo ship held hostage by pirates off the coast of Somalia was in “imminent danger” when U.S. military snipers shot and killed his three pirate captors, a U.S. Navy commander said today.
Navy Vice Adm. William E. Gortney, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, provided preliminary details of the rescue mission that freed Capt. Richard Phillips today during a news conference.
Off the Somali coast, U.S. special operations snipers held positions at the rear of the USS Bainbridge, which was towing an 18-foot lifeboat that held Phillips and three pirates some 25-30 meters away.
“The snipers positioned on the fantail of the Bainbridge observed one of the pirates in the pilot house -- and two pirates with their head and shoulders exposed -- and one of the pirates had the AK47 (assault rifle) leveled at the captain’s back,” Gortney said.
Gortney said the White House had given military operators "very clear guidance and authority" if Phillips' life was in danger.
“The on-scene commander took it as the captain was in imminent danger and then made that decision (to shoot), and he had the authorities to make that decision, and he had seconds to make that decision,” he said.
On the marksmanship of the snipers Gortney said, “We pay a lot for their training and we got a good return on our investment.”
Naval forces rescued Phillips on a rigid-inflatable boat and transferred him to the USS Bainbridge before being flown to the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer, where he contacted his family, received a routine medical evaluation, and is resting comfortably, ccording to a U.S. Navy statement.
Gortney said Phillips was in good health and suffered no apparent injuries, despite being “tied up inside the lifeboat” for at least part of his five days as a hostage. He noted that a fourth pirate surrendered and is being held in U.S. forces’ custody.
The admiral praised the military servicemembers involved in the rescue.
“I could not be more proud to represent all the men and women in uniform who worked tirelessly to make this rescue possible,” he said.