Capt. Phillips' Wife Gives Emotional Thank You for Rescue

"We remain resolved to halt the rise of piracy in this region," Obama said. "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 are held accountable for their crimes."

The drama on the high seas was brought to a close after the Navy patiently waited days for its chance and slowly maneuvered the pirates closer to the Bainbridge. The ship's commander had already received the president's authorization to take action "in extremis" to protect Phillips' life and prevent him from being taken into Somalia as a hostage.

For days, the Navy had been sending a small inflatable boat to the lifeboat to provide Phillips and the pirates with food, water, medicine if they needed it, and changes of clothing for Phillips. Gortney said this was all an effort to build confidence.

When the boat went by on Sunday one pirate got in and was transported back to the Bainbridge.

That pirate was engaged in negotiations aboard the Bainbridge, but Gortney said that at no time was the U.S. preparing to pay what Gortney described as a "significant" ransom demanded by the pirates. He said U.S. officials were trying to explain to the pirates that they had no good options left and to give up Phillips.

Gunfire Raised Tensions

Somali elders who were negotiating for the pirates offered to forgo a ransom but insisted that the pirates not be arrested, according to people in touch with the elders. However, the U.S. negotiators would not accept those terms, the sources said.

Negotiations were getting tense and at one point the Navy said it observed a muzzle flash near Phillips' head and approached the lifeboat demanding proof that Phillips was alive. The pirates did not let the Navy see Phillips, but put him on the phone with the Navy.

Earlier in the long standoff, Phillips had jumped off the lifeboat in an attempt to escape and the pirates fired, although it's still not clear whether they fired in the air or at the captain.

And on a second occasion, the pirates fired their weapons to ward off the approaching Navy boat.

When conditions at sea deteriorated this weekend, the Navy talked the pirates into allowing the boat to be towed to calmer water and talked one of the pirates into coming on board the Bainbridge to negotiate.

The Navy apparently brought the boat to within 40 yards of its fantail.

On Sunday evening, the situation "escalated" and the commander on scene determined that Phillips' life was in imminent danger.

Gortney said that they observed the pirates aiming an AK-47 at Phillips' back and seemed to be "getting ready to use it." Phillips was tied up, and the Navy "interpreted hostile intent" and decided to take action. The snipers strapped on night vision goggles to better see their targets in the evening gloom.

At one point, two pirates "exposed" their heads and shoulders, Gortney said, giving the snipers only "seconds" to decide whether to shoot. The third pirate with the gun aimed at Phillips could be seen inside the lifeboat's cabin. It was 7:19 p.m. on the ocean, 12:19 p.m. ET, when the order to fire was given. And it was over.

Onboard Phillips' ship, the Maersk Alabama, now docked in a Kenyan port, Phillips' crew cheered, waved American flags and shot off makeshift fireworks.

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