Sunday, April 12, 2009

Navy rescues Captain Phillips

By Donald Sensing

Maersk Alabama's Capt. Richard Phillips with Cmdr. Frank Castellano, captain of USS Bainbridge, after Phillips was rescued earlier today.

The US Navy rescued Captain Richard Phillips from his Somali-pirate captors today. According to Vice Adm. William Gortney, speaking by telephone from Bahrain to a televised news conference at the Pentagon, three pirates were shot to death by US Navy shooters. The fourth was taken prisoner.


The lifeboat upon which Capt. Phillips was being held was being towed by USS Bainbridge toward calmer waters when the rescue was effected. The boat was about 25 meters behind Bainbridge at the time.

The three pirates who died were aboard the lifeboat while the fourth, who lived, was actually aboard Bainbridge in discussion with US officials about resolving the situation.

At no time did the US negotiate with the pirates in terms of paying ransom. Discussions were limited to measures to obtain the safe release of Capt. Phillips without rewarding the pirates.

Bainbridge's commanding officer, Cmdr. Frank Castellano, had standing authority to use force to end an imminent risk to Capt. Phillips' life. Vice Adm. Gortney said that President Obama had specifically authorized such action if it proved necessary. [Such contingency is routine in any kind of hostage situation, civil or military - DS.]

Navy SEALs were involved in the shooting, but the admiral declined to say where they had been brought from.

Just before the shooting, Capt. Phillips was topside of the lifeboat. One pirate was behind him, pointing an AK-47 rifle at him. The head and shoulders of each of the other two pirates were also visible above deck of the enclosed lifeboat. Determining that Phillips might be shot at any moment, Bainbridge's commander ordered the action.

Capt. Phillips was taken aboard a Navy RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) quickly, then to Bainbridge. Vice Adm. Gortney said he was in excellent health. He called his family, took a shower and was given fresh clothing. (A RIB is basically a Zodiac inflatable boat and is used by various navies around the world. There are civilian models, too.)

The AP's summary:

Gortney says the pirates threatened throughout the ordeal to kill Phillips. Gortney says the pirates were armed with AK-47s and small-caliber pistols, and were pointing the AK-47s at the captain.

Gortney says the commander of the nearby USS Bainbridge believed Phillips was in "imminent danger" when he ordered sailors to fire at the armed pirates.

Gortney says the White House had given "very clear guidance and authority" that if any time the commander Capt. Phillips' life was in danger to take action to make sure it was not.

Vice Adm. Gortney either did not understand the question or evaded it when asked whether Phillips had been pulled from the sea or directly off the lifeboat once the shooting stopped. He answered only that Phillips was taken onto the RIB, thence to Bainbridge. Some early reports said that Phillips had leaped into the water either just before or just when the shooting started, but these may have been conflated with an escape attept Phillips made Friday. However, if Phillips did leap off the boat, the Navy could have used machine guns to take out the three pirates in a matter of seconds. In any event, trained shooters, probably SEALs, had the boat under constant gunsight and needed only a single word to open fire.

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