Earlier versions of this story, including in today's print edition of The Washington Post, incorrectly identified as Army Rangers the U.S. soldiers who were dragged through the streets of Mogadishu during a failed U.S. intervention in the 1990s.
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'3 Rounds, 3 Dead Bodies'
By Sunday, the pirates had run out of fuel. Rising weather whipped up the seas, and the drifting pirates agreed to allow the USS Bainbridge to tow them to calmer waters. By then, the USS Boxer, an amphibious assault ship with 1,000 crew members, and the guided-missile frigate USS Halyburton had joined the Bainbridge.
The lifeboat, once strung out roughly 200 feet from the Bainbridge, had been pulled to within 80 feet of the fantail, a deck at the vessel's stern.
Navy SEAL snipers, monitoring the lifeboat through rifle scopes, watched as two pirates raised their heads out of a lifeboat hatch. Inside the lifeboat, the third pirate moved toward the captain, pointing his AK-47 at his back.
Thinking Phillips was about to be killed, the on-scene commander gave the snipers the order to fire. When a Navy SEAL arrived at the lifeboat, Phillips was bound, according to the senior military official, who said the captain "was anchored to the interior of the boat."
News of the rescue filtered out to the crew on the Maersk Alabama, docked at the Kenyan port of Mombasa, on Sunday evening.
With the 18 other members of the crew around him, first mate Shane Murphy said at a Monday news conference that "right now, right this minute, ships are being taken." He called on Obama to "end this pirate scourge."
In remarks Monday at the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va., Gates said that "there is no purely military solution" to a piracy problem he described as rooted in Somalia's poverty and instability.
In Somalia, in the pirate haven of Harardhere, where locals have benefited from millions of dollars in pirate ransom, the military operation seemed like a bewildering display of force against four errant young men. "It was wrong to kill those pirates," said Aisha Gurey, an Arabic teacher. "The international community is wrong, and the pirates are wrong. But in this case, the strong one has killed the weak one."
The Justice Department is deciding where to send the fourth pirate for trial.
Andrea Phillips, the wife of Richard Phillips, could barely speak at a Monday celebration held at the Sheraton hotel in Burlington, Vt. Her voice was almost inaudible because of laryngitis. But a look and a touch said it all.
As a spokeswoman for the Maersk Line shipping company read Andrea Phillips's written statement at a podium, the captain's wife sat silently on one side, her hand grasped firmly by her daughter, Mariah. At one point, the mother looked up at her 18-year-old daughter and they smiled at each other, seemingly oblivious to the scores of reporters in the room.
"I spoke to Richard earlier today," Andrea Phillips said, and he thought it "was kind of funny when I told him I was preparing a press statement today."
"We did not know what Richard was enduring while being held hostage on the lifeboat, and that was really the hardest part -- the wondering," her statement said. "My family and closest friends held on to our faith knowing that Richard would come home."
McCrummen reported from Mombasa, Kenya. Staff writers Carrie Johnson and Michael D. Shear in Washington and Keith B. Richburg in Burlington, Vt., and staff researcher Julie Tate in Washington contributed to this report.