13 Apr 2009

US Navy shoots pirates in dramatic rescue

7:28 pm on 13 April 2009

United States Navy snipers have shot dead three pirates holding a US captain in a boat off the coast of Somalia, in a dramatic rescue authorised by President Barack Obama.

The Navy said the snipers opened fire from a nearby warship as a pirate pointed a gun at the captive. A fourth pirate, who was on a navy ship at the time, surrendered.

Captain Richard Phillips, hailed as a hero for his actions during the hijacking of his vessel last week, was unharmed and has been resting aboard a US warship.

Mr Obama said he was very pleased that Captain Phillips had been rescued and that his courage was a "model for all Americans". He said he was resolved to deal with the threat of piracy in the region.

Captain Philips was seized by the pirates last Wednesday after his ship, the Maersk Alabama, was hijacked by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean. The ship was carrying food aid bound for Rwanda, Somalia and Uganda.

After pirates scrambled aboard using ropes and hooks from a small boat and began shooting in the air, crew members said Captain Phillips told his crew to lock themselves in a cabin and surrendered himself. He was then taken hostage in an enclosed lifeboat that was soon shadowed by US warships and a helicopter.

He tried to escape on Thursday night by diving into the sea, but was recaptured by the pirates.

At 1919 local time (1619 GMT), a split-second order was taken for the snipers to shoot. After the pirates were shot, Navy personnel sailed to the lifeboat and released Captain Phillips, whom they found tied up inside, unhurt.

Revenge pledged

A Somali pirate chief has threatened to target Americans in revenge for the rescue. He says the US Navy killed the pirates after they agreed to free the hostage without ransom.

The pirate chief says they will hunt down, particularly American citizens travelling their waters, and will show no mercy.

While defending the rescue operation, a Navy spokesman acknowledged that the incident might increase the threat from pirates, whose mounting attacks on shipping have been relatively bloodless to date.

Other captives

Four French citizens, including a three-year-old boy, were freed aboard a yacht by French troops on Friday. The yacht's owner, Florent Lemacon, was killed during the operation along with two pirates.

On Saturday, pirates hijacked a tugboat in the Gulf of Aden. The Buccaneer has 16 crew members on board, 10 of them Italians.