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More Coverage of the Rescue of Captain Richard Phillips

Aired April 12, 2009 - 16:00   ET


MELISSA LONG, CNN ANCHOR: When you heard that, what was your insight?

CHRIS VOSS, CEO, THE BLACK SWAN GROUP: Well, what we're learning about this is obviously still evolving, but there's a possibility that what they did with the ship the other day, yesterday, with the boat approaching the lifeboat was a bit of a probe. They were looking to test the pirates to see what sort of tactics they might employ if they can see something coming.

The entire process again has been a combination of the negotiators gathering information about how the pirates are acting on board and the people that are the tactical elements there preparing for responses. So it's difficult to say exactly how this went down. Obviously we're still learning.

LONG: Of course.

VOSS: But it's still a combination of negotiations and tactics. And preparing for high risk levels and being able to move if the risk levels do grow high.

LONG: This is now under the FBI and the ship itself is considered a crime scene.

VOSS: Yes. The ship's a crime scene. They should be able to finish processing what they need from the ship and also the statements from the crew on the ship in relatively short order. But maintaining the integrity of that for the time being is still critical if they prosecute this even in an American court.

Maintaining the integrity of the vessel and also, of course, the cargo that was on board. The cargo, of course, was humanitarian aid that was bound for refugees. Tell us a little bit more about what exactly takes place from the moment that it's pulled into port of Mombassa until the crew members are able to go home to their family and friends.

VOSS: Well, they'll need to make sure that they give the crew members enough time to relax and be able to give them clear-headed statements. They'll need to let them rest a little bit and so that they can recall as much as they possibly can, probably interview them several times. Each interview could take a couple of hours, but they'll give them rest and they'll give them a chance to give them clear-headed responses and best recollection.

They'll gather whatever minimal evidence that they need in order to establish that the pirates were on board, whatever evidence is there, and then they'll be able to let both the ship and the crew members go.

LONG: Chris Voss is a former FBI negotiator, CEO of Black Swan Group. I also want to bring General Mark Kimmitt back into the conversation. He is a former assistant secretary of state under the Bush administration. General Kimmitt, thanks again for spending your Sunday afternoon with us.


LONG: I want to talk to you a little bit more about Somalia. The pirates from Somalia. And we know there are still more than 200 men and women being held hostage there.

KIMMITT: Well, that's correct. As was said earlier, this is a business that has been going on for a number of years now, ever since Somalia fell into anarchy but it's a pretty organized business.

LONG: We have anarchy and yet a well organized business of crime. Why is it that the pirates are able to pull off these operations so successfully when they approach this gigantic vessel in a very small boat?

KIMMITT: Well, first of all, let's put this perspective.


KIMMITT: There are about 10,000 ships go through the gulf of Aden and Syria every year. Last year, 40 of them were hijacked. So the chance of being hijacked, first of all, is very, very small. The total ransom collected was about $30 million. So for the industry, this is small peanuts. For the pirates, this is big business. But because there hasn't been a very, very strong concerted international effort to stop the piracy, it's been going on unfettered and as a result there's been a lot of profit in this business.

LONG: I guess the sense that you think, and correct me if I'm wrong, that there's a lot of misunderstanding about what is really taking place in the high seas.

KIMMITT: Well, I think there is. First of all, people are conflating piracy with terrorism. There has been, to my knowledge, no connection with the Al Qaeda group, al-Shabab in Somalia and the pirates. Second, these are pretty well managed operations by the navies of the world right now. They've set up a maritime shipping lane. They're using convoy operations. And the very fact that the center of gravity has moved from the Gulf of Aden off into the Indian Ocean would indicate that the great work being done by the navies is starting to have an effect.

But it's going to take some time, but I remain optimistic that as was done in the South China Sea, Straits of Malacca, that piracy off the coast of Somalia can be wiped out or mitigated to a significant effect in the next couple of years.

LONG: Next couple of years, you're that optimistic? KIMMITT: I really am.

LONG: I want to also ask you about this business model. You have used that term, Admiral McLernon(ph) of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy has used the term, business model, when referring to the pirates. Explain in greater detail.

KIMMITT: Well, someone suggest that the pirates are able to hold about 15 ships at anytime and as ransom is paid and the ship is released, they go out and grab another one. These are not just fishermen out there deciding to scrumptiously and serendipitously take a ship. These are fairly well planned organizations and operations. The ship is taken. It's brought to a location. The hostages and the ship are held until the ransom is paid. The ransom is paid, the ship goes, and then they go out and hunt down another one.

LONG: General Kimmitt is the former assistant secretary of state under the Bush administration. Chris Voss is a former FBI negotiator and CEO of Black Swan Group. Gentlemen, you've been with us for several hours now. We're indebted. I'm very appreciative of your perspective and if you can, we want to you stay with us. OK.

Again, we're waiting for a 4:00 p.m. news conference coming up at any moment, running a little bit behind. I want to bring in my colleague also, Don Lemon who is joining me now to talk in greater detail about, of course, this wonderful news today.


LONG: That we have the captain now free and his family have been able to reconnect with them and they say their prayers have been answered on this Easter Sunday.

LEMON: As you were speaking to Chris Voss and you said he was being optimistic. Today is a day of optimism because this came to an end in the way that Americans would want it. Unfortunately, though, three people were killed in this incident, but they were three people who were holding that captain hostage. So optimism here, of course, throughout the day and we've heard from the family through a spokesperson. They are very happy that their loved one will be returning home safe and sound and we are happy, as well.

I want to bring in a friend of the captain, his name is James Staples. He is in Boston. He went to the Maritime Academy with Richard Phillips. Mr. Staples, tell us how you're feeling at this moment to know that Richard Phillips is safe and sound.

CAPT. JAMES STAPLES, FRIEND OF CAPT. PHILLIPS: Totally ecstatic. This is just a great day, a great Easter. I'm happy for the Phillips family. They can now be relieved of this burden they've had on them in the last couple of days. This is just a wonderful day.

LEMON: Have you spoken to the family?

STAPLES: No, not yet.

LEMON: Yes, what do you plan to say to them when you do speak to them?

STAPLES: Just very happy. Very happy for them.

LEMON: Yes. As you have been watching and waiting as this has been unfolding in the seas, for since Wednesday, the thoughts that have been going through your head because there was an opportunity - someone said yesterday a friend of one of the people who were aboard the ship that he felt that it was a couple of missed opportunities when Captain Rich Phillips jumped in the water the first time and they did not get him. And now he did it again and they did get him. Did you feel there was a missed opportunity there?

STAPLES: Well, not being on the scene, I have no idea if there were actually missed opportunities. I couldn't tell you how far the frigate was from the white boat. I really couldn't say. I don't feel comfortable speculating on something like that if it was actually missed.


STAPLES: Obviously, it would have been nice if they could have done it at an earlier time, but they waited. They were patient and they got the job done.

LEMON: Yes. It's not clear though if the second time that he jumped into the water and the details surrounding the rescue of Captain Phillips still unfolding and we plan to get that. If we can show those live pictures at the Pentagon, we're awaiting a briefing at the Pentagon. It should start very shortly. It was supposed to start at the top of the hour. We're now eight minutes in to the hour and it still hasn't started, but we're watching that. And those are pictures, Mr. Staple, if you look Captain Richard Phillips there who is smiling and, of course, all smiles as well as he should be and I'm sure you're doing it, as well.

STAPLES: Well, that's how I remember Rich with a big smile on his face. That hasn't change in 35 years.

LEMON: 35 years. What do you want America to know about this? And really the world is watching. This is a good day obviously for the family and a good day for Americans, but these attacks and these hijackings probably will continue to go on and there are still people who are being held hostage.

STAPLES: Right, exactly. And this is just something that's come to light, many people have not realized this problem existed. It's out there now. People know we need to look at our policies to see what we have to do to keep our seafarers safe. Whether that people on board, more frigates out there or the crew, this is something that needs to be discussed and we just need to take measures so that this doesn't happen again.

LEMON: My last question, having attended the Maritime Academy and you know the dangers of what happens at sea, in situations where you're carrying cargo, what would your recommendations - I heard that someone from the Maritime Academy earlier saying that he believes in his opinion that these men and women who are aboard the high seas should be armed. How do you feel about that?

STAPLES: Well, the ultimate solution to this problem is for Somalia to protect its own coast and make sure this doesn't happen. That's the proper thing to have done. But understandable the government is a poor government there, it's not happening. But they need to get some type of democracy there, some type of government that they can ultimately patrol their own water ways as they have done in Indonesia and Singapore, making the piracy issue not so rampant down there. This needs to be done.

And then there's the other solutions of for now temporary solutions of putting Blackwater type people on board or arming the crews, which of course that means will take a lot more training, which is always a good thing if you have more training. Weapons on board ships is just another tool that the captain would have on to use, but it would be his ultimate decision whether those weapons are ever broken out because every situation at sea is not always the same. Every day is a different day out there.

LEMON: James Staples, a friend of the captain, Richard Phillips. We appreciate you joining us. And we're glad that you're optimistic today as well as many other Americans. We appreciate that. And, again, we're waiting on that briefing. And like I said, the details surrounding the second one, initially they thought that he had jumped in to the water. Not exactly sure. Maybe he did the first time, but it was an escape attempt.

LONG: Yes, they're actually saying that he did jump. He did try to escape the first time and he was brought back in by the pirates. CNN's Barbara Starr who is live in Bahrain for us, was just starting to report to us that we've learned that the captain was in fact in imminent danger.

So there was a dramatic shootout at sea. So he did not, in fact - is that news conference getting started? He did not, in fact - doing a microphone check. OK. He did not in fact jump out, but it was a dramatic shootout that led to his rescue and all three were killed, were shot and killed, all three pirates.

LEMON: And you know, it could have - you know, Easter Sunday and then you have a family and the world who has been praying for this captain. And all of a sudden their prayers had been answered on this day.

LONG: And again the captain's wife saying my prayers have been answered.

LEMON: My prayers have been answered. We're watching this Pentagon briefing to try to get some information as to what will come out of this briefing. It should happen very shortly. But we've heard from the Maritime Academy. We've heard from Maersk as well. And as Melissa has been reporting this morning, we've also heard from the wife. We saw a press conference held earlier by a spokesperson for Maersk saying that the wife would not speak today, but, again, in a statement saying that her prayers have been answered and obviously we are very happy that they're happy and that is he safe. LONG: As you can see, the news conference could start at any moment. Running a bit behind but as soon as it stars, we'll bring it to you live. You're in the CNN NEWSROOM.


LEMON: Hello, everyone. You're watching the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Don Lemon along with Melissa Long, we are very excited to report some good news today, that Captain Richard Phillips will be coming home safe and sound. And here's what we know at this moment. After days of captivity by Somali pirates and a standoff that riveted the entire world. American cargo ship Captain Richard Phillips has been rescued. At the moment, latest details, he is safe aboard the U.S. Navy warship the "USS Boxer."

A senior defense official says reports that Phillips jumped off the lifeboat that he had been held on are not accurate, are not accurate. The official says U.S. forces believe Captain Phillips was in imminent danger. So they shot and killed the three pirates who were holding him. Phillips was taken initially to the "USS Bainbridge" and from there flown over to the "Boxer" for a medical checkup. The fourth is in custody and we want to go now to that Pentagon briefing, Melissa. Delayed a little bit because of weather. Let's take a listen in.

LONG: Live from Bahrain.

QUESTION: ... the situation and we appreciate you taking the time today to give us an overview of the operation and then to take a few questions from us. So everyone with that, let me turn it over to you.

VOICE OF VICE ADM. WILLIAM E. GORTHNEY, U.S. NAVY: Well, thank you very much. And good evening here from Bahrain. As was mentioned, the U.S. naval forces rescued Captain Richard Phillips, the master of the motor vessel "Maersk Alabama" at 7:19 p.m. local time here in Bahrain and 12:19 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. And we're happy to say that Captain Phillips is safe.

After his rescue, he was taken aboard the Norfolk, Virginia based guided missile destroyer, the "USS Bainbridge" and later transferred to the San Diego based "USS Boxer." I want to say at the outset that could I not be more proud to represent all the men and women in uniform who worked tirelessly to make this rescue possible.

If I didn't mention the actions of Captain Phillips and all of the merchant mariners of "Maersk Alabama," they were heroic. They fought, regained the control of their ship and Captain Phillips selflessly put his life in the hands of those armed criminals in order to protect his crew. And we're honored to call them ship mates.

I'd now like to take a few moments to paint a sketch of what happened the past few days. We're still collecting all of the details and the specifics. It's still early. But we think it's important to let you all know what we have at this as early as possible. Armed Somali pirates attacked the American-flagged vessel "Maersk Alabama" several hundred miles off the east coast of Somalia. The pirates took the crew hostage at gunpoint. They were armed with automatic weapons and small arms. And Captain Phillips' brave crew and civilian mariners fought back and took one of the pirates hostage. And took their ship back.

Captain Phillips was taken hostage himself by the pirates at gunpoint and was transferred to the ship's lifeboat. He attempted to escape yesterday and his captors shot at him, but he was uninjured and was recovered back on board the lifeboat. While working through the negotiation process tonight, the on-scene commander from the "Bainbridge" made the decision that the captain's life was in immediate danger and that three pirates were killed.

The one pirate who surrendered earlier in the day is being treated humanely. His counterparts who chose to continue to fight paid with their lives and the department of justice is working out the details with the intent of holding him accountable for his actions. Before I take your questions, I hope Captain Phillips won't mind if I share a note from his wife that was delivered to him this morning by the sailors from the "USS Bainbridge" while he was still being held captive.

The note said, Richard, your family loves you. Your family is praying for you, your family is saving a chocolate Easter egg for you unless your son eats it first. Well, Mrs. Phillips, keep your son away from those Easter eggs, his dad is headed home. And I'll take your questions now.

QUESTION: Thank you, Admiral. We'll get started here and we'll start with Andrew. Go ahead.

ANDREW GRAY, "REUTERS": Admiral, this is Andrew Gray from "Reuters." Can you give us a little bit more detail about the events that led to the freeing of Captain Phillips, in particular, why did the captain of the "Bainbridge" feel that Captain Phillips' life was in danger and specifically what action was taken that led to the death of those three pirates?

GORTHNEY: We had very clear guidance and authority that if at any time the on-scene commander felt that the captain's life was in danger, that they could take action to make sure that it was not. And that is what occurred at this particular time. The specifics, I'm not able to discuss just yet.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

TOM BALDMAN, NPR: Admiral, this is Tom Baldman(ph) with NPR. Was one of the pirates was on board the "Bainbridge" communicating with the commanding officer at the time, is that correct?

GORTHNEY: Correct. One of the pirates got off on to one of our rigid inflatable boats and on to the "Bainbridge," got off the lifeboat. And we were working with him in the negotiation process.

QUESTION: ... Phillips life was in danger, was it in talks with this pirate or something else, can you just elaborate on that a little bit.

GORTHNEY: Yes, sir. His life was in danger because the pirates were armed with AK-47s and had small caliber pistols and they were pointing the A-47 at the captain.

QUESTION: Is it the first time something like that had happened or what?

GORTHNEY: Well, they actually had shot - they shot at him earlier yesterday when he attempted to escape, jumped in the water. They actually shot in the water at him.

QUESTION: But, I mean, I'm sorry, if could you - how did this escalate? I mean, you were talking with one of the pirates on board the Bainbridge. Were those talks just like going anywhere, was he being obstenic? Can you characterize how this happened?

GORTHNEY: They were going through a deliberate hostage negotiation process, which takes a significant period of time, and at periods during that time, tensions will go up and tensions will deescalate. At this particular point when the first pirate got off, we were in I would say a de-escalatory lower point of the negotiations. Later this evening, it got heated and the on-scene commander thought that interpreted hostile intent by the pirates and took the appropriate action.

QUESTION: I mean, the pirate on board the "Bainbridge," was he basically saying give us money or we'll kill Phillips?

GORTHNEY: I'm not at liberty to discuss what he was saying at this time.

QUESTION: Admiral, Peter (inaudible) of the "Wall Street Journal." I want to get back, you mentioned the captain being in the water and being shot at. There is an incident that has been widely reported from Friday where he jumped off in the water. Are you saying there was a second incident where this happened? Which ratcheted up the pressure because we've also seen some reporting that he tried to escape again and it was in the water.

GORTHNEY: There was one attempt and my understanding, trying to get my days correct, but that was yesterday when he went into the water.

QUESTION: Yesterday, being Saturday. OK.

QUESTION: Admiral, (inaudible) from the "Associated Press." There have been some reports that there is some ransom that was part of the negotiation, some $2 million. Can you speak to that a little bit?

GORTHNEY: There was a demand for ransom. The exact amount I'm not sure about. And to make their point, they were threatening throughout to kill the captain. But exact number, I'm not familiar with.

QUESTION: On ballpark two million or was it a high number?

GORTHNEY: Not sure of the exact number. But I'm sure it was a significant amount of money.

QUESTION: Off the table from the get go, that's not something that the United States would have considered? GORTHNEY: Negotiate, the United States' policy is to not negotiate.

QUESTION: Thank you.

JUSTING FISHALL, FOX NEWS: Admiral, it's Justin Fishall(ph) of Fox News, is it safe to report that Navy S.E.A.L.S were involved in this rescue without going into too much detail? Would it be at least safe to say that and where are you holding the captain now and where are you planning on taking him? And you can talk a little bit about any options you may have for trying him for his crimes?

GORTHNEY: The navy S.E.A.L.S are part of our special operations forces and they were all involved in the rescue attempt. And the second part of your question again, sir?

FISHALL: Where are you holding him now, the one captive pirate, and where are you taking him and what are your options for trying him for his crimes?

GORTHNEY: Currently we are moving him from the "USS Bainbridge" on to the "USS Boxer" where we have a little bit better detainee facilities and we're working with the Justice Department to determine the ultimate disposition of him.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Admiral, Chris Lawrence from CNN. What did the Navy learn from the captain's first attempt to escape and when the Navy sailors got close and the pirates shot at them, you know, what tactically did the Navy learn about during those incidents that may have helped in this rescue?

GORTHNEY: Well, I haven't spoken to the sailors that were involved on point specifically, but throughout the chain of command, we understood it was a clear understanding that it was a very dangerous situation and these pirates were very, very serious. And we had to take a deliberate, slow, deliberate measured response as we worked our way through the negotiation process.

COURTNEY KUBE, NBC NEWS: Admiral, this is Courtney Kube of NBC News. After learning of the captain's rescue today, several of the sailors on board the "Maersk Alabama" said that for more than a week before they were hijacked, they were complaining of pirate attempts and pirate harassment. They were saying they needed security and wondering where the Navy was. Where was the Navy? Were you aware of any problems that they were having, any kind of security issues they were having prior to the pirates actually hijacking the vessel and can you talk a little bit more about the security in that area?

GORTHNEY: Sure. That part of the - on the east coast of Somalia is a vast stretch of water. To put it in perspective, it starts from - it starts from draw a box from Houston to Chicago to New York City down to Jacksonville, Florida. It's an immense body of water. When the "Maersk Alabama" had their problem, our closest vessel from all the Navies that were out there, we have 16 Navies that are patrolling those water, and the closest one was the "USS Bainbridge" and it was over 300 nautical miles. The day before, they had made an announcement through their company that they were fending off some pirates and then when - and they said it was under control. And then the next day when this one that they ultimately got on board, we were closing "Bainbridge" as quickly as we can, but 22 knots, 300 nautical miles, it takes a while to get there. And there's about a 10-minute window from when the pirates were able to get on board that we have time to act.

Up in the Gulf of Aden, north on the north coast of Somalia where it's a little bit more concentrated, we've had more successful attempts when a ship was attempted to be pirated when one of the navies of the 16 Navies are down there that could react and assist with breaking up the attempt. But out on the east coast of Somalia, such a vast area, we simply do not have enough resources in order to cover all those areas.

KUBE: You are aware of the one day prior to the actual pirate - successful pirate attempt, you were aware of unsuccessful attempts of pirate harassment of the ship. Was there anything prior to that and it's fair to say that the Navy did start moving in assets towards the "Alabama" at that time with 24 hours prior to the actual attempt?

GORTHNEY: I'm only familiar with the attempt the day before, and there are piracy attempts just this month alone. I think we're up over 18 or 19. Well, in the last three week, just 18 or 19 piracy attempts both in the Gulf of Aden and in the Somali basin where this ship was pirated. So it's not unusual for a ship to report that it's being - there's a piracy attempt. That's nothing unusual. And recently we've had more - unfortunately we've had more successful attacks.

QUESTION: Admiral, Justin again from Fox. it's been reported that the order to take action came from President Obama. Is that accurate, did the order come from the top, and would you say that action was needed because the ship was getting closer to shore? Was that also another reason that the timing was now for this rescue effort?

GORTHNEY: Our authority came, you're correct, our authorities came directly from the president. And the number one authority for incidents if we were going to respond was if the captain's life was in immediate danger. And that is the situation in which our sailors acted.

QUESTION: Admiral, a couple of questions. First of all, a quick follow-up on that one. But that was a standing authority from the president. He wasn't on the phone with the skipper of the "Bainbridge" saying, oh, yes, go ahead and take the shot.

GORTHNEY: Correct. That's correct. Yes.

QUESTION: Also, if you could help us understand a little better about how this all went down. Were the three pirates in the capsule on the lifeboat or outside? Where was Captain Phillips at the time this was going on? And where were the sharp shooters? In other words, did they make themselves visible and available for the sharp shooters to then take the shot?

GORTHNEY: You are correct that - you are correct that there were standing orders that if he was at risk and we determined that he was under imminent danger, to go ahead and take decisive action. The intent of the entire time was a deliberate, slow deliberate process to let the negotiation process work itself out to a nonviolent end. And unfortunately, that did not occur.

The specifics of where everybody was, I do not have at this particular time, but they would not have been able to take the shots if the captain was anywhere at risk from being hit by one of our snipers.

QUESTION: If I could just follow-up. Was this an actual assault by somebody like the Navy Seals on the lifeboat itself, or was this a target of opportunity? Understanding that they presented a standing threat to the captain's life, was this a target of opportunity for those sharp shooters?

GORTHNEY: I want to make one thing perfectly clear, that the on-scene commander determined that the captain was in imminent danger. If he was not in imminent danger, they were not suppose to take this sort of action, they were suppose to let the negotiation process worked it out. The on-scene commander took it as the captain was imminent danger and then made that decision and he had the authority to make that decision and he had seconds to make that decision.

QUESTION: One more brief follow-up. And that imminent danger as you seemed to say earlier was that the captain, in fact, had an AK-47 aimed at him when this went down.

GORTHNEY: I would have to say yes, that he had a weapon aimed at him and the on-scene commander saw that the weapon was aimed at him and took it that that pirate was getting toward use that weapon. That would be my interpretation of imminent danger. And I think that's exactly what happened.

QUESTION: Could you tell us a little bit more about the condition of Captain Phillips at this point, whether he was at any point injured, can you describe him at all, and could you also give us any details about the capture of the pirate, whether he's being cooperative or what he's saying and how he's acting at this time?

GORTHNEY: Yes, the captain is in good health. He showered up and a clean set of clothes, feeling much better. We've had an opportunity to call home. He's on boxer. He declined once he was on board that he needed anything to eat. We thought that was a good sign. We gave him a medical examination and he's in good health. The captive, it's my understanding, is being cooperative. He's being well cared for, well fed, and a medical examination, as well.

QUESTION: Mike with CNN. Is there a way you can give us kind of a quick time line of how things occurred from the time that the one pirate came aboard until the end of the event here?

GORTHNEY: Those are the sort of specifics I just don't have at this particular time. I'm sorry. QUESTION: Admiral, I think a lot of people are kind of wondering why these huge navy war ships would have a problem overtaking a small lifeboat. Can you kind of walk us through some of the challenges from your point of view on that?

GORTHNEY: Yes. If you've seen pictures of the lifeboat, it's a very standard robust lifeboat that most of the merchant ships have, fully enclosed, about 18 to 20 foot boat, fully enclosed, would not -- self- righting on the back end of the vessel to get into it, it's a three dog hatch, very, very water tight designed to be very sustainable and very rough waters for very long period of time. That would make it a very, very difficult target to get on board in a situation like this. And as a result, it takes as while to work through the negotiation process just even to be able to communicate. We were communicating with them with a handset radio for the first day.

QUESTION: Admiral, Tom in with NPT, again, we're just trying to find out how these three pirates came to die. Were they shot by snipers or someone else from the Bainbridge or were they shot by navy personnel aboard the rib that apparently was close to the lifeboat?

GORTHNEY: They were on the Bainbridge.

QUESTION: The snipers were aboard the Bainbridge?


QUESTION: Did he jump away at the last moment providing this opportunity?

GORTHNEY: I'm sorry, say that again.

QUESTION: There were some reports that Phillips jumped away from the lifeboat providing a better opportunity for the snipers. Is that true?

GORTHNEY: I don't have those specifics just yet, sir. I'm hearing the same conflicting reports from what's being fed to me through my channels and what I've heard on the TV. So I went back to ask to clarify that point.

QUESTION: We assume the folks who did the shooting were the seals who came from Africa. The four seals, correct?

GORTHNEY: Well, they're part of our special operations forces and where we bring them from is classified.

QUESTION: But again, we know there were four of them. Is it true take they were the ones that did the shooting?

GORTHNEY: I'm not certain which ones did the shooting.

QUESTION: Admiral, a couple more points of clarification. Can you say how far away the Bainbridge was from the lifeboat at the time this happened? And can you give us a picture of the sea conditions at the time?

GORTHNEY: The lifeboat was about 25 to 30 meters from the Bainbridge. And the conditions were deteriorating.

QUESTION: You cut out for a moment there. The sea conditions were deteriorating?

GORTHNEY: Yes, they were getting worse. Sea conditions were getting worse, but the exact sea state, I don't have.

QUESTION: Admiral, Peter with the "Wall Street Journal:" You mentioned the involvement of the rib. Can you talk about when that was last in the water and was that a regular back and forth between the Bainbridge and lifeboat, and if you can talk more generally, also, about the navy's task there. You mentioned that you were short of resources, that the area is vast. Is that your best military advice, was she stepping up the amount of resources dedicated to this, or when you spoke maybe about six months ago go after the Saudi tanker was taken over, you said that was more doable mission. You can talk the big picture, as well?

GORTHNEY: The ultimate solution for piracy is on land. Piracy around the world stems from activity where there is lawlessness, lack of governance, economic instability. And wherever you have that, you'll have criminal activity at sea. We had been working on this prevention efforts at sea, pulling in more international navy, working with the shipping industry to use more defensive measures making themselves hard targets and then work a judicial process.

For the last three months, we've sent over 130 pirates in to the judicial process. But it wasn't having an effect of drawing the number of attempts down. As a result of our activity and a lot of navy presence up in the Gulf of Aden, we saw both attempts and successful attacks go down in the gulf of Aden, but in the last couple of weeks, we saw activity attempts and successful attacks occur on the east coast of Somalia. We had already sent warnings to the shipping industry to avoid that area to be farther out from the coast of Somalia, and we were moving ships there in that direction to work a more focused ops to try more presence down there to reduce of number of attempts.

QUESTION: Was the rib that you were using to go back and forth was that in the water at the time, this rescue attempt happened, and how often had you been using that to go back and forth to the Bainbridge and the lifeboat?

GORTHNEY: We had been from the beginning as soon as the pirates would let us be using the rib to provide the pirates and the captain food, water, and medicine if they needed medicine. And so we were -- and transferring food to them, transferring water, taking the captain some new clothes, that was on going, a mechanism to provide confidence and destabilize and use the deliberate process to hopefully get to a nonviolent end.

QUESTION: That was not used in this last operation?

GORTHNEY: That at this particular point, we were towing the lifeboat hopefully into safer waters where the sea state wasn't quite so rough.

QUESTION: Was the Bainbridge towing it or was the rib towing it?

GORTHNEY: No, the Bainbridge was towing it. The rib was not towing it. It was about 25 meters behind the Bainbridge. And the sniper's position on the man tail of the Bainbridge observed one of the pirates from the pilot house fire department, one of the pirates had the AK- was not towing it. The specifics of where everybody was I do not have at this particular time, But they would not have been able to take a shot if the captain was anywhere at risk from being hit by one of ours.

QUESTION: If I can just follow up was this an actual assault by somebody like the Navy Seals on the life boat itself or was this a target of opportunity? Now understanding that they presented a stagy threat to the captain's life.

GORTHNEY: I want to make one thing perfectly clear that the captain was in danger. If you would not inhibit danger, like to take this sort of about 25 meters behind the Bainbridge. And the sniper's position on the fan taflt Bainbridge observed one of the pirates in the pilot house and two pirates with their head and shoulders exposed and one pirate had the ak-47 leveled at the captain's back. He had the authority to make that decision and he had seconds to make that decision.

QUESTION: Mike again from CNN. You had said earlier that this was not really the way you wanted to end it. Are you concerned at all that this is going to send a message out to other potential pirates and they may essentially escalate their hijackings to a more violent level traditionally? Are you concerned that this is now going to escalate?

GORTHNEY: Yes, if they are second and third order offence to every action in this booth escalate violence in this part of the world. No question about it.

QUESTION: Hi this is Courtney for NBC. I don't see why this situation with the pirate who is now in U.S. custody.

GORTHNEY: We are just now getting the suspected pirate that is on Bainbridge now, over to Boxer and working with Adjustments Dept about where we want to take him and to what to take him; we are waiting to find out.

QUESTION: This may sound like strange questions, but the U.S. navy return them to Somalia.

GORTHNEY: We will have to work with the government, and detained insolent is just now click is very violent towards crews. Very few people have died in the past. Are you concerned that this will escalate attacks with pirates?

QUESTION: When the navy rescued Captain Phillips did they take home.

GORTHNEY: We had a foot of ribbon in the water and I'm unclear why this situation with the pirate who is now in U.S. Custody, U.S. Navy custody. QUESTION: Was he tied up at the time?

GORTHNEY: He was not tied up; we would not transport him tied up from life boat to rib to Bainbridge. We would untie him and make sure there is a life vest on him to make sure that he was transported safely.

QUESTION: And you mentioned that the snipers on the Bantell observed the head and the shoulders of the pirates that were exposed. Obviously that is only a partial view, but with the training of these snipers how close was Captain Phillips to them and what goes into their training that makes them think that is a shot that they can definitely take and successfully complete?

GORTHNEY: Well, the entire length of the boat is no more than 18 feet. So the captain couldn't have been any more than 18 feet from the farthest pirate. But they were very, very well trained and they're not going to take a shot that going to put the hostage at risk. And so we got a good return on their investment tonight.

QUESTION: You keep using the term negotiate just like the Maersk Company did. But Pentagon officials I talked with said we don't negotiate, we communicate with the pirates. And I'm wondering, what were you negotiating? You were basically telling the pirates let the captain go or we'll arrest you isn't that right?

GORTHNEY: It's a hostage negotiation. So when I say negotiation, it's a hostage negotiation process. It's not that we are negotiating for money. Please don't misconstrue what I said, but it's a hostage negotiation process and those were the words that I was trying to mean.

QUESTION: Let him go and you'll be arrested, correct?

GORTHNEY: We were seeking to get the safe return of the captain. And in that process, you explain to them that there aren't many good options by not giving up and giving us the captain back. Wearing the captors down and letting time work for us. And that's what we were trying to do.

QUESTION: When but it got heated with the pirate on the Bainbridge, right?

GORTHNEY: Pardon, sir?

QUESTION: It got heated with the pirate on the Bainbridge when you basically told him there were no options for him right?

GORTHNEY: Well, throughout, you try and convey in a sense that there are very few options available to them, whether the fourth pirate on the Bainbridge or not, that's just another process and just another avenue as we went down the negotiation process.

QUESTION: Is Phillips being taken to Mombasa?

GORTHNEY: We're working to transport to get Captain Phillips home to his family as quickly as possible. QUESTION: Admiral, just quickly. Was Captain Phillips tied up at any point?

GORTHNEY: Captain Phillips was tied up inside the lifeboat that is correct.

QUESTION: I want to thank you again for taking some time. I know you're tired. I know you've been working long hours to bring this to resolution. I know that you don't have all the details of the operation, that that's still being fully developed back at your headquarters, so I appreciate you taking the time and being willing to out and share at least the preliminary results of this military operation with us. So thank you very much. And before I close, let me just make sure there isn't anything that you want to add before we end it here.

GORTHNEY: No we're just really glad to get the captain back, heading home to his family. And we're very proud of our sailors and our marines and our air men and soldiers that made this all possible.

LONG: You've been watching a live news conference of the Pentagon Department of Justice and you've been listening to Vice Admiral William Gortney give us an update on exactly what took place today in the high seas and how dramatic and how the captain really was in imminent danger.

LEMON: It was really interest to hear because every time he was asked a question, then he'd be asked depend, he would clarify more because at first he wasn't sure whether or not the captain -- they were pointing guns at the captain or if the captain made an attempt to jump, but he said, as a matter of fact, one of the navy Seals on the fan tail on the "USS Bainbridge" noticed that one of the pirates had an AK-47 pointed at Captain Phillips' back.

That's when they realized he was in imminent danger and that's when they decided to take those drastic actions which paid off for them. One other interesting thing I found here Melissa is that the president had twice been asked and twice given orders that if Captain Phillips' life was in imminent danger, to go ahead and take military action and that's exactly what they did.

LONG: You mentioned those high points. One other thing that I found fascinating is the opportunity for people, crew members, to actually reach the captain, bring him clothes and bring him a note from his family.

LEMON: Also, we are going to check in with our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr because there were several things that in this press conference that we did not know, the general public, that, in fact, that lifeboat was being towed to calmer, safer waters at the time that this rescue attempt went on and several other details that came out of this press conference, including Captain Phillips telling his son don't touch those eggs because I'm coming home.

LONG: I love that, a light moment. LEMON: Barbara Starr standing by. We're going to get to her in just a moment. But first, we'll take a little break here. You are in the CNN NEWSROOM.


LEMON: Here in the CNN NEWSROOM we're getting some new information on that successful rescue attempt that happened on board the "USS Bainbridge" and also the rescue boat that Captain Phillips has been held on since Wednesday. He is safe and sound and three pirates were shot in the process. New information on that we are getting it from the Pentagon. We are also hearing, about to hear from the Department of Justice and we just heard from the Pentagon briefing that happened just moments ago about what happened the exact details.

LONG: Fascinating. We can really learn just how that captain was in interment danger. That is something that CNN's Barbara Starr was reporting just before the news conference. I'm curious what Barbara thinks. She is going to join us now live from Bahrain about the details we learned about the AK-47 at the back of the captain.

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely Melissa. Holding this press conference revealing for the first time that Captain Phillips' life was in imminent danger and it was at that point the on-scene commander made the decision to go for the shot, for the shot to kill those three pirates. According to Admiral Gortney, one of the pirates had an ak-47 rifle pointed directly at Captain Phillips back.

That is when a navy sniper team essentially on board the Bainbridge was ordered in to action, taking three shots against these pirates and killing them. The specifics of course still to come, but that's the basically down of what happened. What we know is that President Obama had given the navy standing authority to move in and take decisive action against the pirates if they deemed the captain's life to be in danger and that is exactly what happened.

So more details very likely to come tomorrow and the next day for the captain obviously a very welcome resolution to all of this. We're also learning that there were a number of times in which the navy sent a small boat called a rib boat, a little inflatable raft essentially, over to that hostage lifeboat vessel taking food, medicine, other gear so there was constant communication of sort over the several days that Captain Phillips was held.

And there was negotiation, if you will, about trying to relieve him. The admiral also revealing some of those negotiations not for ransom on the part of the US navy, but the discussions about releasing him got heated. Those were the admiral's word, I believe. So this may have added to the rise in attention in those last few hours before the military saw the AK and he pointed at Captain Phillips' back and decided that they had to move in and take action.


LONG: Thank you so much. We've been relying on Barbara Starr for hours now keeping us posted on the nuggets as they are coming in. LEMON: That is Barbara Starr reported there. As we have been reporting, the president gave the orders to go ahead and take decisive action if the captain's life was in imminent danger. We're also getting this; President Obama has phoned Phillips on the USS Boxer and his wife and family at their home. More details about this rescue coming out. And exactly what happened as he was held hostage there. We're learning that he was tied up as he was inside of that lifeboat, that at the time that they made the successful rescue attempt, he was not tied up.

LONG: We're also been learning about the strength of character, so many people who know him, who have trained with him.

LEMON: His friend, as welling, talking about that.

LONG: Susan Candiotti is at Buzzards Bay in Massachusetts at the Airtime Academy where he was trained, where he graduated back in 1979.


SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi Melissa. It just doesn't get any better than this, those were the first words from the president of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy when he learned that Captain Richard Phillips had been freed, but the first official reaction you could sort of say here at the academy actually came from the skeleton crew of the training ship Kennedy. Listen.


QUESTION: Well done.

CANDIOTTI: Thank you. In fact, the ship's whistle sounding the news that Captain Richard Phillips had been freed as you just said. He graduated from the academy back in 1979, so there is a sense of extra exhilaration here. All along people here said that they felt confident that the U.S. Navy would be able to free Phillips.

Joining us now briefly here is Captain John Bush who is the captain of the training ship. What do you make of how the operation came down on the end?

CPT. JOHN BUSH, CADET TRAINER: I'm really happy it was a successful conclusion. Absolutely. I'm really thankful for the effective, of the United States navy. They really stepped up and do the right thing and made it happen. I'm really happy.

QUESTION: And the cadets you'll use this in your training.

LONG: The cadets will still use this is this SGH you will use what happened here hopefully in your train something.

BUSH: Well the details unfold, we will. But relying upon the navy is one of the things that we grow to do.

CANDIOTTI: Thank you very much. We're getting new information from the Pentagon. Back to you Melissa. LONG: Oh, and such reason to celebrate there?

All right. Susan Candiotti thanks so much.

LEMON: We are getting some new information for the Pentagon.

Chris Lawrence has new information. Chris what are you finding out?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN: Yeah, One of the big questions I have was about this pirate that separate from the other three. Pentagon briefing and posed some questions.

One of the questions I had was about this fourth pirate, the pirate that got separated from the other three, how he came to be on the Bainbridge, how long he was on there and what those circumstances were. A senior defense official with knowledge of the situation now tells me that this fourth pirate was a very young man, could have been as young as 16 years old. He was one of the pirates that got into a scuffle with the crew of the Alabama when that first rebellion by the Alabama's crew happened.

He was one of the pirates that got into a scuffle and apparently he sustained a stab wound to the hand. He went on to the Bainbridge to get medical treatment for that and at some point while he was there, the communication was that he did not want to go back to the lifeboat, that he had had enough, and that's when the navy started suggesting to him that perhaps he could start to talk to the other pirates on the ship, on the lifeboat.

LONG: 16 years old.

LEMON: And it'll be interesting Chris, to find out why he did not want to go back on that boat. If you get anymore information on that, we'd appreciate it. But do you know why he wouldn't -- didn't want to go back?

LAWRENCE: Don't know why. That's probably something they're going to have to dig down and get a little bit more detail. But you could speculate that perhaps maybe he looked at the situation, that it was deteriorating, he didn't like the options that were looking to be the likely options and just decided maybe his chances were staying on the Bainbridge rather than going back on that lifeboat.

LONG: It would just be so festinating in the coming days to go learn about the dynamics that existed between those quartets of pirates. Again, a 16-year-old.

LAWRENCE: And I think just one other thing. Just to drill back on something that the admiral said during the press conference, that I think you really have to take a good hard look at. This Bainbridge, this guided missile destroyer, it's towing the lifeboat. 25, 30 meters behind. These snipers are positioned on the fan tail of this destroyer. We're told the weather was starting to deteriorate. This is a moving destroyer. The lifeboat is bobbing up and down in the water. The snipers get a view of the head and shoulders of these pirates and are able to take a shot and hit them.