thesun By ANDY WHELAN
Saviour ... Captain Phillips, right, thanks US Navy Commander Frank Castellano
Hijack skipper saved by Seals
A SHIP’S captain being held by pirates was freed yesterday in a dramatic swoop by US Navy ‘Seals’.
Richard Phillips, 53, sparked the rescue by diving from the lifeboat off Somalia on which he was kept hostage.
Three captors trained their rifles on him in the water but were shot dead by the Seal snipers.
A fourth — who was on board a US warship trying to negotiate — was taken prisoner.
Phillips was unhurt and taken to the USS Bainbridge, one of three US warships in the area.
The American captain, who had been seized last Wednesday, said: “I’m just the byline.
“The real heroes are the Navy — the Seals — those who have brought me home.”
But Phillips was hailed for his bravery after being held on the lifeboat since the pirates tried to seize his ship, the Maersk Alabama, in the Indian Ocean.
The crew of 20 quickly regained control of the vessel but the skipper offered himself to the attackers as a hostage to ensure his men’s safety.
By yesterday the pirates — armed with assault rifles and a grenade launcher — had run out of fuel and were drifting towards the Somali coast.
USS Bainbridge commanding officer Frank Castellano was given permission to strike by President Barack Obama. Vice Admiral William Gortney, head of the US Naval Central Command, said: “They were pointing the AK-47s at the captain.
“If he was not in imminent danger, they were supposed to let the negotiation process work it out.
“But the on-scene commander took it as the captain was in imminent danger and then made that decision.
“He had the authority to make that decision, and he had seconds to make it.”
Mr Obama said last night: “I share the country’s admiration for the bravery of Captain Phillips and his selfless concern for his crew. His courage is a model for all Americans.
“His safety has been our principal concern.”
Phillips’ crew, who were last night on the Maersk Alabama in Mombasa, Kenya, celebrated his escape.
Second mate Ken Quinn said: “He is a hero, he saved our lives.”
They placed a US flag on the rail of their ship and fired flares. American military chiefs were keen to strike because the boat had been drifting towards the Somali coast and they felt Phillips was in real danger of being killed.
They believed a rescue would get harder the nearer the vessel drifted to land. By the time the skipper was freed, the boat was just 40 miles from the shore.
Helicopters from the warships had kept watch over the kidnappers. Officials said that the pirates had fired shots on Saturday night at a naval vessel that had approached.Hours before the raid, negotiations with Somali elders for Phillips’ release had broken down.
He leapt into the sea on Thursday but was recaptured.
The captain’s wife Andrea, in a statement, thanked everyone who had prayed for him.
Family spokeswoman Alison McColl said: “I think you can all imagine their joy.”
Captain Joseph Murphy, the father of Maersk Alabama’s second-in-command Shane Murphy, thanked Phillips for his bravery.
He said: “Our prayers have been answered on this Easter Sunday.
“I have made it clear throughout this terrible ordeal that my son and our family will forever be indebted to Captain Phillips for his bravery.
“If not for his incredible personal sacrifice, this kidnapping and act of terror could have turned out much worse.”