- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 14, 2009

MANAMA, BAHRAIN (AP) - The skipper of the USS Bainbridge said Tuesday that pirates repeatedly threatened to kill the American sea captain they held captive off the coast of Somalia before his rescue this week.

Cmdr. Frank Castellano told The Associated Press that the pirates who held Capt. Richard Phillips hostage aboard a life boat for five days indicated multiple times they were prepared to kill him.

“I can tell you throughout the entire event there were threats against his life,” Castellano said. “There had been times of rising tension where they had verbally said it was their intention to kill him.”

He added that it seemed “to be inevitable that that was their intention.”

During the standoff, relations with the hostage-takers rose and fell as negotiators tried to bring a peaceful end to the ordeal, Castellano said. He described the showdown as a “roller coaster ride” with signs of progress that were then followed by “steps backward.”

By the fifth day, Castellano said the pirates seemed agitated after what little sleep they probably had aboard the life boat and as weather conditions deteriorated.

“They were very uncomfortable,” he said. “There was imminent danger to Capt. Richard Phillips’ life due to that tension out there.”

U.S. special forces on the warship ended the standoff Sunday with three well placed, nighttime shots that killed the three pirates in the lifeboat after one of the captors could be seen holding his assault rifle toward Phillips.

A fourth pirate, suffering from a hand injury, earlier agreed to be brought onboard the Bainbridge.

Castellano said the life boat, which had previously been tethered to the destroyer after running out of fuel, was about 75 feet (23 meters) off the Bainbridge’s fantail when Navy SEAL sharpshooters took their shots.

Castellano did not give further details about Phillips’ location, only that he was going to be reunited with his crew and then go home.

Phillips and his 19-man crew were attacked by pirates hundreds of miles off Somalia’s eastern coast Wednesday. The 51-year-old captain, from Underhill, Vermont, offered himself as a hostage to save his crew, who were able to retake their ship.

A team of 18 armed crew members from the U.S. warship was sent to the Maersk Alabama as a precaution on its voyage onward to its destination of Mombasa, Kenya. The ship was loaded with food aid bound for Rwanda, Somalia and Uganda.

“A concern of ours was that there was going to be a pirate attack on the Maersk Alabama on her transit as she left the area,” Castellano said.

The commander of the Bainbridge said the United States’ strong response to Phillips’ abduction might make some pirates think twice about attacking other vessels. But he said it is unlikely to bring an end to lawlessness on the high seas altogether.

“International piracy has been happening for thousands of years,” he said. “And unfortunately I think it will continue.”

___

Associated Press Writer Richard Lardner in Washington contributed reporting.

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