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An American cargo ship captain held hostage by pirates in a lifeboat off the coast of Somalia is once again a free man, and is now resting comfortably on a U.S. Navy vessel following a daring rescue. Richard Phillips was freed by the Navy commandos in an operation that resulted in the deaths of three of his captors.
Captain Richard Phillips is free and safe. He was rescued by members of an elite U.S. navy unit, after a brief firefight at sea that left three of his four captors dead and one in custody.
In a written statement, U.S. President Barack Obama welcomed word of the successful rescue operation. He said the United States remains resolved to halt the rise of piracy in the region. And he vowed to work with America's allies to prevent future attacks, go after the pirates when they do occur, and make sure those responsible are held accountable for their crimes.
At Captain Phillips' home in Vermont, there was jubilation. Family friend Alison McColl spoke to reporters. "This is truly a very happy Easter for the Philips family," she said.
And at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, where Phillips trained, there was joy and relief.
Admiral Rick Gurnon said the Academy has reason to be proud. "In my mind, his actions showed unbelievable courage and professionalism. He was the good shepherd who willingly exchanged his life for the lives of his flock - his crew," he said.
Phillip's ship - the Maersk Alabama - was attacked last Wednesday. Members of his crew say Phillips turned himself over the pirates in exchange for their safety.
In so doing, he became the first American to be taken by the pirate gangs that have plagued the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean shipping lanes for years.
Admiral Gurnon said while his release is welcome news, the world must not forget the many civilian sailors from other countries who are still captives. "We still have more than 200 men and women held hostage in Somalia. We should not let the spotlight, the TV cameras, the focus of the world be removed from that problem," he said.
He said the pirates have a great business model that works for them: seize ships, get ransoms, make millions. He said the international community must stop it. "It will certainly take hard work and money and focus but we have got to stop it or we begin to risk lives in areas of the world that are vital for all of our national security. It is not that hard. We can do it," he said.
Earlier, on the Fox News Sunday television program, two members of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee talked about the various options before the Obama administration to deal with the piracy threat.
Republican Tom Coburn of Oklahoma said more military resources are needed. But he stressed it must be a true international effort. "It can't just be us. It has got to be everybody because everybody is affected by it," he said.
Indiana Democrat Evan Bayh agreed the world must take a strong stand. Bayh also said it is essential to create some sort of effective government amidst the chaos in Somalia. "No. I am talking about helping responsible elements - and they are hard to find within Somalia - eventually have a government there that is capable of controlling its own territory so we don't have to," he said.
Speaking just hours before the rescue mission became known, Bayh made remarks that now seem prophetic. He said the United States should send a clear signal that anyone who attacks a U.S. flagged ship and takes Americans hostage will face - in his words - some real problems.