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Captain freed from pirates in daring rescue

Navy snipers shot three pirates who had held Richard Phillips hostage since Wednesday. The episode threatens to change the dynamics of piracy in the region.

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The dramatic Navy rescue Sunday that freed an American cargo ship captain from his Somali captors could begin to change the calculus of the rampant piracy in some of the world's most traveled and dangerous waters.

Snipers aboard the USS Bainbridge shot the three pirates aboard a lifeboat with Capt. Richard Phillips 100 feet away. Mr. Phillips was seen to be in "imminent danger" – with at least one of the pirates pointing an AK-47 at his back, said Vice Adm. William Gortney in a Pentagon briefing. A fourth pirate surrendered and was taken into custody.

The operation apparently brought to a close the remarkable story of the Maersk Alabama, a US-flagged cargo vessel that was set on by pirates Wednesday hundreds of miles east of Somalia. Though the crew of the Alabama fought off the pirates, Mr. Phillips offered himself as a hostage to save his crew, according to several news reports.

His rescue amid snipers' bullets could entice Somali pirates, who have so far largely refrained from violence, to consider retribution. "There are second- and third-order effects," said Admiral Gortney. "This could escalate violence in this part of the world, no question about it."

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