(For more coverage of the pirate crisis click on [nPIRATES]
* U.S. Navy said captain's life was in danger
* President Obama authorized use of force
* Pirates vow revenge against U.S. and France
* Jubilant celebration by crew in Kenya
(Updates with captain's life in danger, details)
By Abdi Sheikh and Abdi Guled
MOGADISHU, April 12 U.S. naval forces rescued
cargo ship captain Richard Phillips from captivity at the hands
of Somali pirates in a dramatic shootout that ended a five-day
standoff, the U.S. Navy said on Sunday.
Phillips' life was in danger when naval forces shot the
pirates, freeing him unharmed and killing three of four pirates
who had held him hostage on a lifeboat after trying to seize
his vessel, the navy said. The fourth pirate was in custody.
"I can tell you that he is free and that he is safe," Navy
Lieutenant Commander John Daniels said.
The U.S. Navy believed that Phillips, who tried to escape
on Friday, faced imminent danger amid tense hostage talks with
his captors and deteriorating sea conditions.
"They were pointing the AK-47s at the captain," Vice Adm.
William Gortney, head of the U.S. Naval Central Command, said
in a Pentagon briefing from Bahrain.
President Barack Obama had granted the Pentagon's request
for standing authority to use appropriate force to save the
life of the captain, he said.
The U.S. Navy 5th Fleet in Bahrain said the rescue took
place at 12:19 p.m. EDT (1619 GMT) and the lifeboat had drifted
to about 20 miles (32 km) from lawless Somalia's coast.
Phillips, captain of the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama
container ship, had contacted his family, received a routine
medical evaluation, and was resting comfortably aboard the
amphibious assault ship USS Boxer.
"We are all absolutely thrilled to learn that Richard is
safe and will be reunited with his family," Maersk Line chief
executive John Reinhart said in a statement.
CNN showed a photo of a smiling Phillips after his rescue.
Phillips' crew let off flares, hoisted an American flag and
jumped for joy at news of their captain's rescue.
"We are very happy. He's a hero," one crew member of the
Maersk Alabama shouted at journalists amid raucous celebrations
on the deck of the vessel, docked in Kenya's Mombasa port.
Phillips, 53, was the first American taken captive by
Somali pirate gangs who have marauded in the busy Gulf of Aden
and Indian Ocean shipping lanes for years.
Three U.S. warships had been watching the situation.
PIRATES VOW REVENGE
Obama, spared from having another thorny foreign policy
crisis added to his troubles with the U.S. economic meltdown
and Afghanistan, welcomed the rescue, praised the U.S. military
and vowed to curb rampant piracy.
"To achieve that goal, we must continue to work with our
partners to prevent future attacks, be prepared to interdict
acts of piracy and ensure that those who commit acts of piracy
are held accountable for their crimes," he said in a statement.
Somali pirates were quick to vow revenge over Sunday's
shooting, as well as a French military assault to rescue a
yacht on Friday.
"The French and the Americans will regret starting this
killing. We do not kill, but take only ransom. We shall do
something to anyone we see as French or American from now,"
Hussein, a pirate, told Reuters by satellite phone.
The Maersk Alabama, a container ship carrying food aid for
Somalis, was attacked far out in the Indian Ocean on Wednesday,
but its 20 American crew apparently fought off the pirates and
Phillips volunteered to go with the pirates in a Maersk
Alabama lifeboat in exchange for the crew, said Vice Adm. Bill
Gortney, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command.
"The actions of Captain Phillips and the civilian mariners
of Maersk-Alabama were heroic. They fought back to regain
control of their ship, and Captain Phillips selflessly put his
life in the hands of these armed criminals in order to protect
his crew," he said in a statement.
Joseph Murphy, whose son, Shane, was Phillips's second in
command and took over the Alabama after pirates left with
Phillips, said in a statement read by CNN, "Our prayers have
been answered on this Easter Sunday."
"My son and our family will forever be indebted to Capt.
Phillips for his bravery. If not for his incredible personal
sacrifice, this kidnapping -- an act of terror -- could have
turned out much worse," said Murphy.
"The captain is a hero," one crew member shouted from the
17,000-ton ship as it docked in Kenya's Mombasa port under
darkness on Saturday. "He saved our lives by giving himself
LEGAL SYSTEM NEEDED
Experts had expected a quick end to the standoff, but the
pirates held out for both a ransom and safe passage home.
Friends told Reuters the gang wanted $2 million.
The saga has drawn world attention to the long-running
piracy phenomenon off Somalia that has hiked shipping insurance
costs and disrupted international trade.
Andrew Mwangura, coordinator of Mombasa-based East African
Seafarers Assistance Program, said the rescue would change the
stakes in future pirate attacks.
"This is a big wake-up to the pirates. It raises the
stakes. Now they may be more violent, like the pirates of old,"
Pirates have generally treated hostages well, sometimes
roasting goat meat for them and even passing phones round so
they can call loved ones. The worst violence reported has been
the occasional beating and no hostages are known to have been
killed by pirates.
The drama underscored a need for new international
agreements to allow other countries to protect shipments in
Somali waters and try pirates, U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Adm.
Thad Allen told U.S. net work ABC's "This Week". [nN12352211]
The U.S. Justice Department said in a statement it "will be
reviewing the evidence and other issues to determine whether to
seek prosecution in the United States."
(Additional reporting by David Morgan and Randall Mikkelsen in
Washington, Abdi Sheikh and Ibrahim Mohamed in Mogadishu, Jack
Kimball, Celestine Achieng and Njuwa Maina in Mombasa, Andrew
Cawthorne and Abdiaziz Hassan in Nairobi; Writing by Paul
Eckert; Editing by Doina Chiacu)