US Navy forces conducted a dramatic rescue operation on high seas to free a US ship captain being held hostage by pirates off the Somali coast.
Maersk-Alabama Capt. Richard Phillips, right, and Cmdr. Frank Castellano of the USS Bainbridge after the rescue
The US Navy said that three pirates were killed in the operation to rescue Captain Richard Phillips, while a fourth was in custody.
The Navy said 53-year-old Captain Phillips was in good health and was taken aboard the USS Bainbridge, a warship that had been shadowing the lifeboat in which he was being held.
US Vice Admiral William Gortney, head of US Naval Central Command, said in a Pentagon briefing that the operation was carried out because Phillips' life was in imminent danger.
A Navy commander made a split-second decision to fire on the pirates because he believed that Phillips faced imminent danger amid tense hostage talks with his captors and deteriorating sea conditions.
"They were pointing the AK-47s at the captain," Vice Admiral William Gortney, head of the U.S. Naval Central Command, said in a Pentagon briefing from Bahrain.
"The on-scene commander took it as the captain was in imminent danger and then made that decision (to kill the pirates) and he had the authorities to make that decision and he had seconds to make that decision."
Phillips was captured after pirates made an unsuccessful attempt on Wednesday to hijack his ship, the Maersk Alabama, off the coast of Somalia.
Crew members celebrate on the deck of the Maersk Alabama
Phillips' crew set off flares, hoisted an American flag and jumped for joy at the 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 the Kenyan port of Mombasa.
In Washington, President Barack Obama welcomed news of the rescue in a statement and said the US remained resolved to combat piracy off the Somali coast.