"His courage is a model for all Americans," President Obama says about Capt. Richard P. Phillips
Credit: U.S. Navy/EPA

American sea captain Richard P. Phillips has been freed from the Somali pirates who had held him captive since Wednesday.

“We are all absolutely thrilled to learn that Richard is safe and will be re-united with his family,” said John Reinhart, president and CEO of Maersk Line, Ltd., Phillips’s employer. “We look forward to welcoming him home in the coming days.”

U.S. Navy SEALs shot and killed three of his captors and took a fourth prisoner during the rescue operation, U.S. officials say. Phillips was being held aboard a lifeboat taken from his ship, the Maersk Alabama.

Four days earlier, Phillips had given himself up as a hostage in exchange for the safety of his crew of 19 when the container ship, en route to Kenya, was attacked by pirates armed with AK-47s. His crew took back their ship, but some of the pirates escaped with Phillips as a hostage in the lifeboat.

The U.S. Navy and FBI followed the pirates and tried to negotiate Phillips’s release, but his captors threatened to kill him if they mounted a rescue attempt. Phillips tried to escape Thursday, but was quickly recaptured.

The 55-year-old Vermont resident and father of two was well aware that pirate activity in the area has reached crisis proportions, with more than 40 ships hijacked last year alone.

After his escape Sunday, he was taken aboard the USS Bainbridge, a nearby naval warship where the fourth pirate was also being held.

Later in the day, President Obama issued a statement regarding Phillips, which concluded: “I share the country’s admiration for the bravery of Captain Phillips and his selfless concern for his crew. His courage is a model for all Americans.”