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Hero captain is free

Jubilation from crew and family, US Navy action could turn tide against pirates.

Maersk-Alabama captain Richard Phillips, (R), stands alongside Commander Frank Castellano, the commanding officer of USS Bainbridge, after being rescued by U.S Naval Forces off the coast of Somalia April 12, 2009. Phillips was freed from captivity at the hands of Somali pirates in a dramatic ending to a five-day standoff with American naval forces, the U.S. Navy said on Sunday. (U.S. Navy/Reuters)

NAIROBI, Kenya — The news that Captain Richard Phillips has escaped unharmed from Somali pirates provoked jubilant celebrations in Mombasa port Sunday.

The thundering horn of Phillips’ ship, the Maersk Alabama, sounded three times and flares were fired into the night sky.

“He’s a national hero,” shouted one of his crewmen from the Maersk Alabama to journalists gathered by the ship at the Mombasa docks. “We’re all excited about the captain being freed.”

The 19 crew whooped with joy at the news that their captain was free after a tense, five-day standoff.

U.S. Navy SEALs shot three armed pirates who were holding Phillips hostage on the lifeboat where he had been held captive since Wednesday, according to CNN. This report from the Navy states that Navy special forces believed Phillips was in "imminent danger" and they shot the pirates. This changes the initial report that said Phillips jumped into the water from the lifeboat and then the Navy SEALs shot the pirates dead to protect him.

The fourth pirate was aboard the USS Bainbridge and has been arrested.

The U.S. sharp shooters felt that Phillips was in imminent danger and they had clear aims at the three pirates so they opened fire, according to a statement from Vice Admiral William Gortney, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command.

The lifeboat was being towed by the Bainbridge and was just 100 feet away from the American snipers, according to Gortney. Phillips was just feet away from the pirates when they were shot dead.

The Navy rescue operation was authorized by U.S. President Barack Obama. From Washington he said he was very pleased that Phillips was free and said that his courage was "a model for all Americans." Obama said he was resolved to deal with the piracy rampant along the Somalian coast.

"To achieve that goal, we must continue to work with our partners to prevent future attacks, be prepared to interdict acts of piracy and ensure that those who commit acts of piracy and ensure that those who commit acts of piracy are held accountable for their crimes," said Obama in a statement.

The rescue took place at 12:19 p.m. ET and the lifeboat had drifted to about 20 miles from Somalia's lawless shore, according to the U.S. Navy 5th Fleet in Bahrain.

Phillips was later taken by helicopter to the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer where he was checked by medics, phone his family in Underhill, Vermont, and is reported to be resting comfortably.

"I'm just the byline, the heroes are the Navy SEALS who brought me home," said Phillips, with characteristic modesty.

"He's a leader of men," said John Reinhart, chief executive of Maersk. "He exhibited the true spirit of an American."

"We're happy he's free and we're all alive," shouted another sailor on board the Maersk Alabama in Mombasa.

"He's one of the bravest men I ever met, " said another crewman of Phillips, shouting from the deck of the 17,000-ton container vessel that has been has been docked in Mombasa since Saturday night.