When the good news broke, Richard Phillips’ ship, the Maersk Alabama, blew its horn three times in celebration from where it was docked in the Kenyan port of Mombasa. The crew also set off a red flare and unfurled a huge American flag at the top of the boat. Phillips, the Alabama’s captain, had been rescued after nearly five days of captivity in a rescue operation in which three of the four Somali pirates holding him on a lifeboat were killed. The fourth was captured.
Phillips was taken on board the U.S.S. Bainbridge, an American warship in nearby waters, according to CNN. Details of his rescue have not yet been revealed. But it came after negotiations, mediated by Somali tribal elders, had broken off, reportedly because U.S. negotiators were adamant that the pirates give themselves up as part of any deal.
On Wednesday, Phillips had given himself up to the pirates, apparently to win freedom for the rest of his crew. The Alabama, a U.S. ship, and its 19 remaining crew members then sailed for shore and docked in Mombasa on Saturday its sailors relieved to be safe but distraught over the fate of their captain.
The crew was ecstatic when they found out their captain had been saved. Nine of the sailors, one with a U.S. flag draped on his shoulders, came to the stern to share their feelings with reporters. Said one, “He’s one of the best men I’ve ever met. The captain never gave this crew up, not once.” Said another: “We’re all doing better now… all excited about the captain being free.” Indeed, soon after tugboats pushed the Maersk Alabama into port, crew members began to praise Phillips. “He saved our lives!” said one man, identified by The Associated Press as second mate Ken Quinn, of Bradenton, Florida. “He’s a hero.” Another, who identified himself as ATM Reza, said that he had persuaded one pirate to go to the engine room, where he overpowered the pirate, stabbing him in the hand and tying him up.
Kenyan port employees who helped bring the crew to safety said the sailors were fearful of kidnappers even after they were well away from Somali waters. “When we were coming in,” said Bernard Odemba, the Kenyan pilot who brought the Maersk Alabama to shore, “when they saw any boat coming around, it was as if they felt that maybe another group is coming to attack them. So I had to calm them down and say, ‘No no no, that is our police boat; that is our one of the local boats, the friendly ones.'”
As the Alabama was coming to port in Kenya, pirates off Somalia hijacked yet another ship, a tugboat flying under an Italian flag. Sixteen crew were aboard, and ten were Italians.
It is not known when the crew will return home, but some officials say they may remain on the Alabama until they are debriefed by the FBI and U.S. military officials. The FBI reportedly considers the ship a crime scene and will want the sailors to remain on board until they can fully investigate the vessel.
The ill-fated pirates had not demanded a ransom for Phillips. Numerous shipping companies have paid millions of dollars in ransom to free some of the dozens of ships that have been hijacked in recent months off Somalia. A Somali man who said he was a go-between for Somali pirate leaders and the men who captured the Alabama told TIME that, before the rescue, the pirates had been unsure what to do with Phillips. The Somali man, who refused to give his name, said that the pirates were “very angry with how [Phillips] managed to free the crew” but that “one man has no meaning for the pirates.” In the end, however, he apparently cost three of them their lives.
See TIME’s gallery: “Somalia’s Face of Modern Piracy”
TIME recaps the pirate attacks of 2008