- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 12, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - The American sea captain held hostage by Somali pirates was in “imminent danger” of being killed by his captors before U.S. Special Operations forces fatally shot them, a U.S. military official said.

The hostage, Richard Phillips, was not hurt in the several minutes of gunfire off the Somali coast Sunday. Phillips was safely transported to a Navy warship nearby.

Three pirates were killed and one surrendered to U.S. forces, said the military official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the event publicly.

The Pentagon planned to brief reporters late Sunday afternoon on the dramatic rescue.

“This was an incredible team effort, and I am extremely proud of the tireless efforts of all the men and women who made this rescue possible” Vice Adm. Bill Gortney, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, said in a statement.

He called Phillips and his crew “heroic.”

The U.S. military official described a tense and terrifying few minutes for Phillips, during which “we definitely felt there was a life-threatening situation there.”

He said the situation appeared “imminent” and that forces shot the pirates to death.

Following the rescue, Phillips was taken aboard the USS Bainbridge and later flown to the USS Boxer, where he called his family and got a medical evaluation.