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U.S. Cargo Ship Captain Rescued

Aired April 12, 2009 - 1500   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ADM. RICK GURNON, PRES. MASSACHUSETTS MARITIME ACADEMY: Well, we're already planning that, Susan. We were planning that on Wednesday we heard they were taken because we knew it was going to end positively. National Maritime Day is coming up in May and we hope that they're going to be able to be here to help us celebrate that.

The first thing that's on all of their minds is being reunited with their families. After that, we'll have a public celebration. And we'll certainly have our two graduates, Shane Murphy and Captain Richard Phillips, back here on this campus and we'll let you all know.

QUESTION: Admiral how do you size up the Navy's operations in this rescue?

GURNON: Well, I've only heard it through CNN as to what happened, so I'd reserve comment as to the actual tactics and details. But I knew that the Navy was not going to let them be reinforced by other pirates. I knew that they were not going to let Captain Phillips get into Somalia itself. And I knew that he would be returned safely, eventually.

I'm just surprised at the drama that did take place, if it went down the way it has been described.

QUESTION: How do you know?

GURNON: Well, I heard it on CNN.

QUESTION: No, I mean, why are you so sure that it wouldn't come to that?

GURNON: Well, I was sure that Captain Phillips was going to be returned because the pirates had no cards to play. They were adrift in the Indian Ocean in a small life boat 100 miles or more out to sea. They were eventually going to become exhausted.

So, I was confident that Phillips had maneuvered them into a position where they could not win. And it was only a matter of time before they realized that.

QUESTION: Taking it that you know him personally, what were you thinking about him the last couple days and what must be going through his mind (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

GURNON: Actually, I knew Richard when he was here. I was a company officer, he was a student and I've met him a number of times in the intervening years. I actually was more concerned for his family. I was pretty sure he would be ok. That as a Captain at sea in a life boat, he was in an environment that he was comfortable with, even if he was sharing it with four armed Somali pirates. But he's got 350 Americans right nearby.

I was more worried for his family. They have been going through hell since Wednesday. And this is truly a joyous day for them.

QUESTION: Can you tell us how are they are doing right now?

GURNON: I don't know anything other than what I've seen on TV. I do know that his family was advised hours ago that he was safe. And when that happened we began to blow the whistle on the ship and ring the bell here in celebration. Aaron?

QUESTION: Have you talked to any of his family recently?

GURNON: I have not. We did call his wife about mid-week and expressed our concern and made sure that she knew that everybody here was saying prayers for her. But they needed space and time and we gave it to them.

QUESTION: How is this going to change your training here, if at all?

GURNON: Actually, this incident is an anomaly. People have talked about pirates for a few years and it has affected the maritime community greatly and as I said, 200 mariners or more are currently being held. But it is a very small percentage of worldwide shipping.

The sea's a dangerous place. Pirates are just one of the many dangers. Our four-year curriculum here tries to educate you and prepare you to keep you from danger, but it doesn't always work.

I think that our students are very cognizant of that. And we make sure that they are both forearmed and prepared, ready to go. It's, it's, nevertheless, never going to be able to remove the danger from going to sea.

QUESTION: Admiral, what are your thoughts on deterring value of this operation? Do you think that in the future now, hopefully these culprits will think twice?

GURNON: I don't think that this will have any deterrent value at all to the Somalis. They're desperate people that have a business model that works for them. You know, you buy lottery tickets and you lose most of the time, but you still buy them. You still might have $1 million winner.

That's the way they're going to look at it. We've got to figure out a way in an international community, in my opinion, arm the crews, increase the number of warships that are there on scene, reduce the ability of the Somalis to have ships anchored off the coast in a safe haven and be unable to get at them.

Those are the areas that perpetuate this pirate menace. We faced this, the turn of the 17th century, 18th century with President Jefferson, a new country. And it was an Englishman who had a quote then that said, "It is easier to go after the wasp's nest than to try to swat individual wasps."

QUESTION: Are we're going to find an operation on the mainland soon?

GURNON: I think the international community needs to seriously look at that.

QUESTION: Can you comment at all on the reports that three of the pirates were killed?

GURNON: I can't I've just heard what I heard on the news like you. If I were guessing I'd say that one pirate was aboard the vessel negotiating with the American Navy. Sharp shooters saw an opportunity where the Captain was separated from the three remaining captives and they probably took them out. Pure supposition on my part -- just connecting dots that may or may not be there.

QUESTION: Admiral, can you discuss the importance of proper training and how you feel we have matured in the outcome of this situation?

GURNON: The only way you're going to be able to ply the oceans and make a living there is if you are properly trained. It's a dangerous environment. This academy, all of the maritime academies around the country, there are six state maritime academies and the Federal Maritime Academy at King's Point, New York, all of us are focused on safety. We're focused on the professional nature of what we do. We ensure that our graduates go into that field absolutely trained to be the captains that Captain Phillips certainly was.

QUESTION: So a big day after a week of tension.

GURNON: It doesn't get better than this. It doesn't get better than this. This is exactly the way we wanted it to end with the crew safe, with the cargo safe and with the ship safe. Thank you all very much for coming. Thanks for coming to Massachusetts Maritime Academy.

MELISSA LONG, CNN ANCHOR: That's Admiral Rick Gurnon, the President of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy talking about the heroism, talking about Captain Phillips saying his actions show unbelievable courage and professionalism on this Easter Sunday saying he willingly exchanged his life for his flock or his crew.

And of course, he is now a free man today. Three Somali pirates killed and one of them being held by U.S. military. Of course, he said they will have a public celebration there at the maritime academy, date undetermined at this point.

They plan to have the two graduates back, not only Captain Phillips but also the first mate that was Shane Murphy who became captain of the Maersk Alabama after Richard Phillips was held hostage. Now, he received his training at that academy there in Buzzards Bay, graduated in 1979.

There was a question about whether or not the Admiral thought this would deter the Somalis. His answer, he didn't think it would. He said some people buy lottery tickets; they might lose, but there's still that million dollar winner.

Again, that was Admiral Rick Gurnon from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. He is the President there in Buzzards Bay.

We have CNN's Susan Candiotti who is live there. In fact, you may have heard Susan ask a couple questions during that news conference. And I'm going to turn it over to her -- Susan.

I'm not sure if Susan is able to hear me. Actually Susan is talking...

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I hear you.

LONG: Ok, Susan now we can hear you, perfect. We do want to hear what you have to say, perfect.

CANDIOTTI: Ok, you can hear me now.

LONG: Perfect.

CANDIOTTI: Very good. I think one of the most interesting things he said was right at the beginning when the Admiral used a biblical reference when he said that he thinks that what Captain Richard Phillips did was quote, "unbelievable, showed courage and professionalism." And then said he's like the good shepherd who exchanged his life for the lives of his flock; perhaps appropriate on this Easter Sunday.

And he also indicated that it is important to remember, and I think as you pointed out, again, that more than 200 men and women remain hostage in that part of the world. And he hopes that what happened here helps to focus the world's attention on this ongoing problem.

He's compared this to a business model that is working successfully for pirates in that region. He said, they get ships, they seek ransom and they make million -- millions of dollars. Hopefully he said this will help to change that.

Earlier when we spoke one-on-one with the Admiral, just as the news came out, I asked him for his reaction to the U.S. Navy Seals rescue operation and here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GURNON: An amazing amount of coordination. This is a dangerous opportunity for them to take. For us, we don't care how it went down, only that we've got Captain Phillips home safe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CANDIOTTI: And I think, Melissa, that we might also have the ship's whistle cued up, I'm told the ship's whistle is what it's called, not necessarily the horn and it was blasting here at the maritime academy. Take a listen.

That, of course, in celebration of the release of Captain Richard Phillips as well as all members now of the Maersk Alabama.

Of course, here at this campus where many of the crew members have a direct connection, including Captain Phillips, they hope to have them all back here in terms of a celebration coming up next month when it is National Maritime Day coming up in May and that is the hope here.

It's been quite an interesting several days spent here. Everyone here is saying that they expected things to turn out this way and naturally, they're relieved that they did -- Melissa.

LONG: And again, the ship's whistle not horn. Got it.

CANDIOTTI: That's what I'm told.

LONG: All right, all right, I was calling it a horn myself earlier, as well. Susan Candiotti thanks so much.

While we have heard from the President of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, we are waiting to hear from the President and CEO of Maersk Line Limited.

A news conference is scheduled for about 20 minutes from now from the headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia. We have also learned of another news conference coming up at 4:20 in the afternoon and that's from the U.S. Navy scheduled from Bahrain.

So it's just something to keep in mind for your Sunday afternoon.

It is 3:11 in the afternoon Eastern Time right now. And I want to bring back in for a conversation Chris Voss, apologies, I thought we were going to bring Chris back in.

We're going to bring him in after the break, we're going to take a brief break right now. And as we go to break this is the picture -- the first picture we have of Captain Richard Phillips, again, Richie to his family and friends free today and unharmed.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELISSA LONG, CNN ANCHOR: It is a Sunday afternoon and the big story we're following for you in the CNN NEWSROOM: the American captain held captive is now a free man. That's Captain Richard Phillips. This is the first picture we have of him as a free man. All smiles, understandably, as he is free and also uninjured.

Sources tell CNN he jumped overboard again for a second time off of that life boat that pirates had been holding him on for days in the Indian Ocean off the coastline of Somalia. Picked up then by the USS Bainbridge and then flown over to the USS Boxer for a routine medical exam. The Navy now says, after talking to family, he is resting comfortably.

The U.S. official says that Navy SEALs shot and killed three of the Somali pirates during the rescue. The fourth is now in custody. He, in fact, was engaged in negotiations on the USS Bainbridge at the time of the captain's rescue. We're also hearing from the president today. President Obama releasing this statement and I will share it with you. "I am very pleased that Captain Phillips has been rescued and is safely aboard the USS Boxer. His safety has been our principal concern and I know this is a welcome relief for his family and his crew. I'm also very proud of the efforts of the U.S. military and many of the departments and agencies who worked tireless to secure Captain Phillips' safe recovery."

This press release goes on to say, "We remain resolved to halt the rise of piracy in this region. To achieve that goal, we must continue to work with our partners to prevent future attacks, be prepared to interdict acts of piracy and ensure that those who commit acts of piracy are held accountable for their crimes."

The press conference from the president wraps up by saying, "I share the country's admiration for the bravery of Captain Phillips and his selfless concern for his crew. His courage is a model for all Americans."

That statement from President Obama on the rescue of Captain Phillips.

Waiting for a news conference to start about 15 minutes from now from Maersk headquarters in the state of Virginia from Norfolk. We're also going to check in right now with CNN's Zain Verjee. She joins us live on the line from London -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Melissa, as we wait for more details of this dramatic operation. What we do know is that Captain Richard Phillips jumped overboard, once again, and that provided an opportunity for Navy SEALs or U.S. military personnel to move in and shoot three pirates who apparently were left exposed in the boat and had trained their rifle on to the captain to try and shoot him. But they, themselves, were shot before they could pull the trigger.

As you pointed out, one pirate is in custody who had been on the USS Bainbridge to negotiate; the situation right now, a successful operation. It appears, according to one source I spoke to, a senior U.S. official on the ground with knowledge of the situation that the captain jumped overboard first and then the operations sprung into action.

They took advantage of that window of opportunity and it appears successful operation and we're waiting for some more of those dramatic details to emerge -- Melissa.

LONG: CNN's Zain Verjee, live on the line for us from London. Zain, thanks so much for that update.

Let me bring back in Chris Voss. He's in our Washington D.C. bureau. He's a former FBI negotiator and also joining in the conversation is General Mark Kimmitt also in our Washington, D.C., bureau, former assistant secretary of state under the Bush administration. Gentlemen, thank you, once again.

GEN. MARK KIMMITT, FORMER ASST SECRETARY OF STATE: My pleasure.

CHRIS VOSS, FORMER FBI NEGOTIATOR: Mine, too.

LONG: I know you had the opportunity to listen to the news conference in its entirety from the Maritime Academy in Buzzards Bay. I want to get both of your perspective to see whether or not you agree with what we heard from the president of the maritime academy. And Chris, I'll start with you.

VOSS: Well, in terms of dealing with the situation overall, I think is what you're asking me and I absolutely agree. The wasps' nest has to be addressed and it probably needs to be addressed on a number of levels. There are other levels besides military action to be taken here.

They need an alternative way to make money, unfortunately, they found themselves in a position where they could start piracy in the region and it's become a virus. It's easy money, it's become too easy. And once it gets into a culture, very difficult to get out. And the only way to get it out is attack it on multiple levels.

LONG: General Kimmitt, what did you think about what Adm. Rick Gurnon said during that news conference?

KIMMITT: Well, I think that the point that was made as well goes to the point that somehow nothing is being done. In fact, over the past few months, a lot has been done.

A new United Nations Security Council resolution that allows going after pirates not only on the open sea, but on the land. A huge international coalition of military ships, an enhanced judicial capability to prosecute, but, I also disagree that this will not have a deterrent effect.

Lottery tickets -- you may lose lottery tickets on your lottery tickets, but you don't lose your life in the lottery. It has got to be very, very clear on two levels that there are deterrent actions so the pirates realize they're not going to make money, but also there's more that can be done on a defensive level, as well, by the ships themselves.

LONG: I want to let our viewers know in case they didn't see that news conference to what you are referring when you mentioned lottery tickets, general.

Admiral Rick Gurnon during the news conference which we were broadcasting live just about 20 minutes ago was asked whether or not he thought this would deter piracies. And he said I don't think this will deter Somalis and there is the lottery reference. He said, "People buy lottery tickets, they might lose, but you still have the million dollar winner."\

So again, you think this will deter pirates?

KIMMITT: Well, this one incident, if it is the only time that we take this robust action, will not deter. But this has to be, this incident, the next incident, the next incident of that, a long-term pattern will certainly have a deterrent effect against piracy, as it has in other parts of the world.

LONG: Got it. Thanks for the clarification, again. Chris Voss and General Mark Kimmitt in the studio for us providing us with this terrific perspective on this Sunday afternoon.

It's our breaking news story; that's Captain Richard Phillips who is a free man.

Do stay with us, we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LONG: Breaking news today: again, Captain Richard Phillips a free man and we are waiting to hear from the shipping company out of Norfolk, Virginia. This Maersk Line Limited news conference is scheduled for just a matter of about seven, eight minutes from now. When it starts, we'll bring it to you live here on CNN.

Also, we're waiting for a news conference at the top of the hour, 4:00 p.m. Eastern time out of Bahrain, that led by the U.S. Navy.

I want to bring in Zain Verjee, once again. She's live on the line in London. We're learning, of course, more and more nuggets of information.

Of course, we know that three of the pirates that were holding the captain hostage have been killed, shot and killed. There was one hostage (sic) who, in fact, was in the process of negotiating and was on the USS Bainbridge. To that note I want to bring in CNN's Zain Verjee.

VERJEE: I spoke a short while ago to a senior U.S. official with knowledge of the situation on the ground who said that a major issue right now for the U.S. is what to do with that one pirate that they have in custody. The source said that this was an extremely sensitive issue for the U.S. and that they were looking at options for prosecuting him.

The source indicated that the U.S. may want to prosecute this pirate in the United States, but that decision has not been made. They're looking at various options, but according to this source, Melissa, this is the first time in the history of piracy operations that you have a pirate in custody of the U.S. that carried out attacks against U.S. citizens. So, it's treading new ground and the U.S. is looking carefully at this sensitive issue -- Melissa.

LONG: History of the piracy operations, wow, we have a pirate in custody. Zane Verjee, thanks so much. Zane was live there from London for us.

Again, the Justice Department spokesperson also saying earlier today that they'll be reviewing the evidence and other issues to determine whether or not to seek prosecution in the U.S. You're watching CNN's breaking news coverage of Captain Richard Phillips -- Richie known to many family and friends -- who is a free man today. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LONG: On this Sunday afternoon, a holiday weekend, Captain Richard Phillips, a free man today and you're looking at a live picture right now from Maersk Line Limited's headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia.

Employees there, proudly displaying the company logo getting ready for a news conference scheduled to start a few minutes from now. Microphones are set, obviously, you can hear that sound check. And as soon as the news conference starts we'll hear from Mr. Reinhart, he is the president and chief executive officer of Maersk Line Limited.

In his news release earlier he said, "We're all absolutely thrilled to learn that Richard is safe and will be reunited with his family." Maersk deeply grateful to the Navy, the FBI and so many others for their tireless efforts to secure Richard's freedom. Again, we'll hear from the company live in a matter of minutes.

And also coming up about 30 minutes from now, we're going to be hearing from the U.S. Navy. We've learned the news conference has been moved up from 4:20 to 4:00 Eastern time. That's coming up as well.

Let me bring in two of our guests on this Sunday afternoon. Once again gentlemen, thanks so much for coming in on a holiday. That's Chris Voss; he's a former FBI negotiator. And General Kimmitt, also in the D.C. bureau, former assistant secretary of state under the Bush administration. Gentlemen, thank you so much.

VOSS: My pleasure.

LONG: General, when we were last speaking, you were talking about progress being made. You mentioned a new U.N. Security Council resolution to go after pirates. You mentioned enhanced ability to prosecute.

And I want to continue to talk about that right now because as Zain Verjee was just telling us, we have a first right now with a pirate now essentially in U.S. Control and U.S. Custody onboard the USS Bainbridge. So what is the next step?

KIMMITT: Well first of all, there have been a number of incidents over the past few years when American troops, American sailors have captured pirates. Some have been handed over the Kenyans for sending back to Somalia and some are being prosecuted by the Kenyan's at this point. But the next step is, and this is really for your legal experts, but it's collect the evidence, build the case and decide if that case is going to be prosecuted in the United States or if it's going to be prosecuted in a third country such as Kenya.

LONG: I also want to bring in Chris Voss to the conversation, a former FBI negotiator and CEO of Black Swan -- I want to make sure I have that correct -- Black Swan Group. Chris has been providing us with his terrific perspective, as well.

And I just want to talk to you a little bit more about the negotiation itself that likely went down today and the minutes around the actual rescue. We have learned that the captain jumped out of the ship, it was the second escape attempt and in that very moment, I guess it presented the perfect opportunity for the military to move in.

VOSS: Well, yes. And a lot would have had to do with the individual that was actually selected from the pirates to be allowed to come over to the Navy. That would have been a separate negotiation and would have been a lot -- it would have wanted to decide, more than likely, the best person to have come across is the leader of the pirates because at that point in time if something happens on the tug boat, such as Captain Phillips jumping overboard, they're more likely to react in a much more disorganized fashion.

So, they don't know for sure something like that is going to happen and they need to work in the negotiation process to create those kind of opportunities.

LONG: Again, we talked about this briefly earlier but of course, people just flipping on the television this Sunday afternoon, and you mentioned the leader of the pirates. There were four of them, three of them have been shot and killed and again one now on the USS Bainbridge in custody. But tell us about the dynamics of the quartet?

VOSS: Well, there -- in any negotiations there's always a team on the other side and if it's a business negotiation or if it's a hostage negotiation. You're going to have decision makers, you're going to have someone who is the most violent or the most reactive. And you're going to have what we define an individual in one negotiation in a prison we learned about a deal breaker, if you will.

Someone who stays quiet throughout the negotiation process, only as an agreement is getting ready to be made, he'll want to speak up and object.

So during the course of the process, the negotiator's job is to figure out who's on the other side and how they're interacting so that they can create opportunities.

LONG: General, I want to bring you back into the conversation to talk a little bit more about what Admiral Rick Gurnon was talking about during his news conference at the top of the hour. He's the President of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, he was saying of course, this is a brilliant day, a wonderful day that we have the Captain, now a free man -- I apologize, I need to stop that thought and take you live to the news conference right there in Norfolk, Virginia.

Tremendous applause in the room. This is the President and the Chief Executive Officer of Maersk Line Limited.

JOHN REINHART, PRES. & CEO, MAERSK LINE LIMITED: This is a good moment. First of all, thank you for being here. I can't tell you how pleased we are to announce to you and to the nation that Captain Richard Phillips is safe. He has been rescued and he is now being prepared to be brought home to his family.

The Navy is going to provide an operational briefing in a short while, so, I will not do any comments to the operational particulars or what occurred. That will be done by the Navy in the very near future.

But what's important here is that Captain Richard Phillips is safe and sound. It's a great day for all of us. I spoke to Andrea and those are one of the -- that's one of those phone calls that every person lives to make.

She sends her thanks to the nation and to all of you for your prayers and your support. She is ecstatic to know that very soon she'll be reunited with her husband.

This is a great day for all of us; for Andrea, for Richard, their family, for the American maritime industry, for Maersk Line Limited, for this nation. It is truly, truly a wonderful moment. We, as Americans, should be proud.

I'd like to thank all of you for those prayers, they have come true.

The government, the Navy and the FBI and a host of federal agencies performed at the highest level and tirelessly executed every step that needed to be done and cooperated with us as industry and the maritime labor unions to deliver this success. We all should be proud.

Every one has worked around the clock; it's magnificent to see the outcome. We do have the finest military in the world. They have been magnificent. We also want to thank the American people again; your outpouring of support is truly something to behold.

We've worked well with the labor unions, our labor partners. They have done everything they can to help deliver Richard back home. So, we appreciate all the support.

Now, Richard exemplifies some of the best traditions and behaviors and skills of an American merchant mariner. He is a leader of men, he's a brave and courageous man and he persevered through difficult times and he has shown real heroism.

When I look at it, I think Richard has exhibited the true spirit of an American. And I'm proud today to be an American, as every day.

I want to just talk with Richard a little while ago. We had a nice conversation. He's well. He's feeling quite good. He's getting some rest and he'll soon be home.

I asked Richard, I said, I'm going to go talk to the media and the nation, is there anything you would like me to say? And I want to quote him, "John, I'm just the byline, the heroes are the Navy, the Seals. And those that have brought me home." That's his quote. He wanted to express his thanks to all of you for the support you've shown his family and also the discretion to let his family have some family time. He does appreciate that.

I spoke to Andrea a couple times today and one of the messages she said when I made that wonderful phone call is she said, "My prayers are answered. My husband is coming home."

We spoke to the crew of the Maersk Alabama and I think you can hear them now in the background cheering and applauding and making noise, their Captain is coming to rejoin them.

You should know that the crew was really challenged with the order to leave Richard behind. They didn't want to do it. They've expressed that throughout, but as mariners they took the order to preserve the ship and they knew the Navy would preserve their captain. So they did that tough choice and they took the ship away.

Now that Richard is free, the fight is over for them and it's time to bring everybody home. We will be doing that over the next couple days; reuniting our crew with their families and bringing them back to American soil. We're making all the arrangements to fly everybody home to get them reunited so they can find some peace and order in their lives after this very harrowing experience.

I'm not going to take any questions today. I'm going to close with my thanks and I'm going to close with thanking Richard for being the man that he is and for Andrea, we did all we could and I look forward to seeing you both together soon.

I said at the beginning, the Navy is going to provide you the operational details. Stand by, those will be forthcoming in the very near future. God bless you all. Thanks very much and have a happy Easter.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

LONG: That was the President and Chief Executive Officer of Maersk Line Limited not taking any questions right there with a brief statement, statement on behalf of the company, himself and, of course, also on behalf of the Captain.

He said, he had the opportunity to talk to Captain Phillips earlier today. He said, "Is there anything you want me to say to America." He said, "John, I'm just the byline, the heroes are the Navy Seals and the Navy who have brought me home."

So much thanks from the Captain's wife Andrea to the nation and for their prayers and support. Andrea says her prayers have been answered today.

John Reinhart again, the President and the Chief Executive Officer of Maersk Line Limited, also saying the fight is now over for his crew because the Captain is now safe. Over the next few days he's going to bringing them back to U.S. soil and of course, they will hopefully be finding peace after this harrowing experience.

You're watching this, this Sunday afternoon, a holiday weekend, some breaking news as we have learned. Captain Richard Phillips is a free man today. He is of course, in good spirits and also is unharmed after a medical checkup.

Coming up about 4:00, about 20 minutes from now, we're expecting a news conference also from the U.S. Navy, live from Bahrain.

We're going to take this brief break and we're going to continue to follow the story for you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LONG: The big news story today, Captain Richard Phillips is a free man. He is unharmed and there, in fact, you see a picture of Captain Phillips captured just a short time ago. He is now on the USS Boxer after being transported from that, of course, fishing vessel where he had been held hostage since Wednesday then transferred to the USS Bainbridge and flown by chopper to USS Boxer. He has had a routine medical examine. He is just fine and all smiles today.

He's had the opportunity to talk to loved ones back in Underhill, Vermont and his wife, Andrea, saying thanks to the nation and thank you for the prayers and support. Their prayers have been answered on this Easter Sunday.

We're learning more about exactly what took place when he made that daring second escape attempt today and was successful today. Three of the hostages were shot and killed. One of the hostages -- excuse me, three of the pirates were shot and killed. Three of the pirates were shot and killed; one pirate is now in custody. He was, in fact, negotiating on the USS Bainbridge.

I want to bring in CNN's Barbara Starr who's live for us from Bahrain. We're waiting for a news conference to start there, in just a matter of about 15, 18 minutes from now. But I know you have more information on exactly what happened today.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Melissa, we are getting new information. This apparently was quite a dramatic shootout at sea, in a situation of extremist to the captain. A U.S. official now confirms to CNN quoting this official, "We saw the Captain was in imminent danger."

For some reason the U.S. believed that the captain was in imminent danger and they're not saying exactly what at this point and then the U.S. Naval troops moved in. This source telling us that the troops saw the opportunity to take action and they took it.

Again, no details about what the imminent danger was, but this source is telling us that the U.S. Navy saw it. So, we are led to believe at this point that there were visual indications, possibly from the Bainbridge, that ship standing a short distance away that Captain Phillips' life was at risk.

U.S. Naval forces then moved in and killed the three pirates remaining on the life boat. U.S. Special Forces were involved in this operation, we are told, and of course, it is U.S. Special Forces that have the most significant expertise in the type of precision operations, the type of precision shooting that would have been required in these circumstances to kill all three pirates very quickly before they could harm Captain Phillips. And of course, thankfully, he was not harmed. As for the fourth pirate, he was on the Bainbridge. We are told that that was the wounded pirate in the initial attack on the cargo ship. That he gave himself up and went to the U.S. Navy ship where he is said by the Navy to be getting medical care, food and being treated humanely.

But once again, the latest details, the newest information is that Captain Phillips was in imminent danger. The Navy moved very quickly and took out the pirates and rescued the Captain -- Melissa.

LONG: Hopefully we'll find out more at the top of the hour. A little bit more about that imminent danger you speak of Barbara.

I want to also ask you about that pirate who is now on the USS Bainbridge you mentioned that that is the one who was wounded. I believe he was stabbed in the hand?

STARR: That was the indication that we had, I believe, when Stan Grant, our correspondent in Mombasa spoke to members of the crew of the Maersk Alabama as they pulled into port in Mombasa here last night.

That was one of the very initial indications that they gave. That's the only wounded that we know of at this point. It is believed to be that man.

And, as you say, within the hour or a little bit after that we expect a press briefing from Vice Admiral William Gortney (ph) here in Bahrain, the head of the Fifth Fleet. And he is going to be expected to be laying out some of the initial details.

The reason that we're coming to you, again, with the information about the imminent danger that Captain Phillips appeared to be and there had been some reporting that perhaps he jumped back into the water, another escape attempt, such as the one he tried the other day.

That appears not to have been the case, actually, that he never went into the water tonight. That he was rescued onboard that life boat when the three pirates were killed by the U.S. Special Operations Forces that were involved.

So, we'll be listening very closely. And I think everyone will, to see what we can learn about this notion that he was in imminent danger as described by U.S. officials -- Melissa.

LONG: Absolutely.

Barbara Starr, live for us from Bahrain and it is in Bahrain that we're going to have that live signal coming up in a matter of minutes. We're waiting for that news conference. We've been told that it's scheduled to start at 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

Again, the big development today, Captain Richard Phillips known to his family and friends as Ritchey, there he is all smiles, a free man today.

You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LONG: Captain Richard Phillips a free man today after being held for days by Somali pirates in that standoff. Again, that's American cargo ship captain known to his friends as Ritchey Phillips who is free.

Here's what we know. Again, he is safe aboard a USS navy war ship, the USS Boxer. What we just learned from CNN's Barbara Starr is that the captain was in imminent danger and there was a dramatic shootout at sea. Apparently they, meaning the military officials, saw the opportunity to take action and took it. U.S. Navy reporting that today. And that was according to CNN's Barbara Starr.

I can also tell you he was picked up by the USS Bainbridge then flown by chopper over to the USS Boxer for a medical checkup. He had the opportunity to speak to loved one. He is now resting comfortably, according to the navy.

The U.S. officials say Navy SEALs again shot and killed three of the four Somali pirates during that rescue. A fourth, in fact, is in custody. He, according to CNN's Barbara Starr, is the wounded pirate who gave himself up and was engaged in negotiations on the USS Bainbridge at the very time of the rescue.

We are also getting new details right now about what happened on the Maersk Alabama when the pirates first came on board days ago. Members of the ship's crew are speaking out, they want to clarify things.

Here's what they had to say. You really do need listen because this was caught from quite a distance.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just want to clarify something right now. We never lost control of the ship.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They never had it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We never took it back. They never had the ship. They didn't have the ship.

(CROSS TALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I guarantee you, they never had control. I took it from the bridge and just as they walked on to the bridge with guns and stuck guns in his face, the captain's face. The captain said the bridge has been compromised.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is one of the bravest men I have ever met right here. This man is a hero, a national hero, right here. Everybody on this ship owes their life to this man right here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LONG: Again, providing you with the visual reference for that conversation as well with the news media. The crew of the USS Maersk Alabama clarifying that "we never lost control." They never had control and talking about the bravery of the crew, as well.

You are in the CNN NEWSROOM. Breaking news today: again, Captain Richard Phillips, a free man.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LONG: We are waiting for a news conference to come up at the top of the hour with the Department of Defense and the vice admiral. We'll bring it to you live. Here's a live picture right now. Microphones set. We're just waiting for the vice admiral to step in front of the camera.

I want to turn now to my colleague, Josh Levs. He's been tracking exactly what's been taking place over the last five days now. A harrowing experience at sea, Josh.

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Obviously. And you know, right now of course we're focused on what happened today that led to Captain Phillips now being a free man. We all want to know the details.

There have been a lot of steps that got us here today. And I want to zoom in on the board now and phase you through some basics -- a time line of what's happened. This is from cnn.com, it's tough to miss.

Check it out. We give you some basics right here. We start off talking to you about the pirates originally getting on to this ship. Keep in mind this was a US cargo ship that was trying to bring tons of food aid along.

We're going to go back to last week on Wednesday, April 8th. That is when these pirates as we've been telling you off the coast of Somalia, they attacked this U.S.-flagged container ship and that is when they got on. And we were just learning minutes ago, Melissa, some more details about exactly what happened at that point.

But as we take a look at what's on the time line here, we describe crew members capturing one of the four pirates. Then there was this momentary hostage exchange that was attempted anyway, but the pirates end up leaving with Captain Phillips.

Let's move on to the next day. Thursday, the USS Bainbridge, a guide missile destroyer, arrived on the scene to assist in negotiations trying to help achieve his release at the time. With armed security detail on board, the Alabama then resumed its planned journey without him at that point.

Next day, we're on to April 10th now, we're getting close to today, this is when the U.S. military monitoring communications between pirates who were searching for the life boat containing the four pirates and their hostage, a key step that led to today.

And now, we're at April 11th, pirates firing at U.S. Sailors. And we were reporting on this as they tried to reach the life boat where the American captain was being held. The gunfire forces the sailors who did not return fire to turn back. That was seen by many as an attempted rescue when the gunfire happened.

And now the big news from today, we're caught up here, Captain Phillips is set free after being held captive by pirates off the coast, there you go. And we're obviously going to learn a lot more details, but these are the key major steps that led to today.

I'm going to encourage to you check that out at cnn.com and while you're there take a look at the map, too. Keep in mind, it's just unbelievable. Every single place that you see a red mark, all of them are piracy incidents in that area, Gulf of Aden and over here into the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Somalia just this year. And I don't mean 12 month, I mean 2009.

All these and more, instants happening in that region which are part of a broader time line -- Melissa.

LONG: Still more than 200 men and women being held hostage in Somalia. Terrific explainer on our Web site, cnn.com.

I know coming up, Josh, we're going to talk about an outpouring of support on Facebook.

LEVS: Yes. Facebook is going wild. There are so many groups set up right now. We're just looking at the messages. So many people wanted to celebrate exactly. We'll tell you how you can join in.

LONG: Looking forward to that. Thank you Josh.

LEVS: You got it.

LONG: Let me bring Chris Voss back in, he's in our D.C. bureau today. He has spent his Sunday afternoon with us, and for that we are grateful. He's former FBI negotiator, I want to bring him back in.

And in the meantime, I also want to tell you we're monitoring and waiting for a news conference to get started at 4:00.

Do we have Chris? Apparently we don't. Ok. Oh, we do have Chris. Chris, Ok. Perfect. Now your microphone is on. Perfect.

I wanted to talk to you a little bit more right now about what we learned from CNN's Barbara Starr. I just want to recap it in case you didn't hear it, in case our viewers weren't able to hear it.

Barbara Starr reported that the captain was in imminent danger and there was a dramatic shootout at sea which corrected earlier information that the captain, in fact, had jumped overboard with this rescue. We'd also learned that the wounded pirate is in fact the one that was on the USS Bainbridge and had given himself up.