Captive Captain 'Still Alive' as Pirates Steer Lifeboat Toward Shore

Pirates have gas on lifeboat, fire shots at U.S. Navy sailors.

ByABC News
April 10, 2009, 7:40 AM

April 11, 2009 — -- The captain of a U.S.-flagged ship held hostage by armed pirates on a lifeboat in the Indian Ocean appears to be alive after a daring escape attempt -- but the pirates now seem to have fuel and to be moving closer to shore, sources told ABC News.

The latest evidence that Capt. Richard Phillips, 53, is alive came as the pirates holding him in a covered lifeboat fired shots at U.S. Navy sailors who approached their vessel at an undisclosed time after the escape bid.

The Navy asked for a show of life and received it, the source said, though it was not clear what the Navy was shown.

The Navy ultimately withdrew from the confrontation.

The U.S. military has also spoken to Phillips since he jumped from the lifeboat in an attempt to escape the pirates holding him early Friday, a U.S. official told ABC News. That official would not comment on Phillips' condition, saying only that "he's still alive."

Sources added that, contrary to earlier news reports, the pirates had fuel on the lifeboat and had used it to move within 20 miles off the African coast.

The latest developments at sea came as Phillips' freighter, the Maersk Alabama, pulled into port in Mombasa, Kenya, Saturday evening local time with its crew members waving and pumping their fists.

The 17,000-ton ship, with 19 crew members onboard, was flanked by escort boats and helicopters flying overhead.

Several of the crew members said the captain had saved their lives. When asked how, one said he'd traded himself for the safety of the crew.

"He saved our lives!" second mate Ken Quinn, of Bradenton,Fla., declared after he walked off the ship, according to The Associated Press. "He's a hero!"

One crew member said his friend stabbed a pirate with his knife. As he told the story, his friend, a crew member, showed off his knife.

A crew member flashed a thumbs up sign and one said he was looking forward to having a beer. Some crew members wore bulletproof vests.

The last time Phillips was known to have been seen was by an unmanned Scan Eagle drone early Friday as he jumped from the lifeboat into the Indian Ocean and attempted to swim away. The lifeboat also was being watched by a U.S. warship off the coast of Africa.

The pirates quickly appeared and began firing their weapons. One jumped into the water and dragged the captain back to the boat, where he was seen being bound by his captors.

Earlier, the pirates had put the captain on a radio line with the USS Bainbridge, but they refused to do so initially after his attempted escape, and his condition was unknown.

Though the Pentagon is directing the military response to the crisis, President Obama is getting personally involved.

A White House group on piracy met throughout the day Saturday. The administration is keeping all options on the table, including direct military action to free the captain, the first American taken by pirates since 1804.