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Report: Pirates were out of ammo, sought to trade captain

WASHINGTON _ A U.S. official confirmed Sunday that an American ship captain held hostage by pirates in the Indian Ocean since Wednesday has been released.

WASHINGTON _ A U.S. official confirmed Sunday that an American ship captain held hostage by pirates in the Indian Ocean since Wednesday has been released.

The official said the captain, Richard Phillips, of Underhill, Vt., was in good health after a small unit of Navy SEALs stormed the 28-foot lifeboat where he was being held. A spokeswoman for Maersk, the owner of Phillips' ship, said Phillips has spoken with his wife.

A relative of one of the pirates aboard the vessel, reached by phone in the Puntland region of Somalia, said three pirates were killed in the assault and a fourth one captured.

There was no official word from the Pentagon or from the White House, and it was unclear how involved President Barack Obama may have been in the decision to launch the raid.

The relative reached by phone said he had been in contact with one of the pirates on the lifeboat. He said the pirate reported they were out of ammunition and fuel and were getting desperate.

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The relative said the pirates had asked the Americans to let them go if they released the captain, but the Americans would not agree to the conditions.

The relative said U.S. helicopters flew low over Haaradhere, a known pirate den in Somalia, throughout the day Sunday.

Reporters in Mombasa, Kenya, where Captain Phillips' ship, the Maersk Alabama, arrived Saturday night, said news of the captain's rescue was greeted with jubilation.

Earlier in the day, Maersk reported the Navy had told the company Captain Phillips had been sighted earlier in the day, indicating he was not being restrained by his captors.

The pirates originally boarded the Alabama on Wednesday as it steamed through the Indian Ocean bound for Mombasa. Crew members, shouting to reporters from the ship in Mombasa after word of Phillips' release had reached them, said pirates were never in control of the vessel, but had made it to the ship's bridge.

However, when the pirates arrived at the bridge, Captain Phillips immediately passed control of the vessel to an engineer in another part of the ship.

After hours, the crew members said, the pirates, frustrated the ship was being steered from elsewhere, agreed to abandon the ship. The pirates took Phillips with them.

--(c) 2009, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

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