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U.S. President Barack Obama said that Washington was determined to stamp
U.S. President Barack Obama said that Washington was determined to stamp out piracy off the coast of Somalia after a dramatic rescue mission ended with U.S. navy snipers shooting dead three pirates. (VIDEO)

Capt. Richard Phillips, 53, was seized on Wednesday by pirates who tried to hijack the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama as it carried aid to Rwanda, Somalia and Uganda. Washington responded by sending helicopter-equipped warships to the scene.

Events came to a head on Sunday as negotiations became increasingly agitated, and as one pirate pointed his weapon at Phillips the commander of the nearby U.S.S. Bainbridge ordered his men to shoot.

"The on-scene [US Navy] commander determined that the captain was in imminent danger," Vice Admiral William Gortney, head of the US Naval Central Command, said in a Pentagon briefing from Bahrain.

"I am very pleased that Captain Phillips has been rescued and is safely on board the U.S.S. Boxer. His safety has been our principal concern, and I know this is a welcome relief to his family and his crew," Obama said in statement.

"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," he added.

Gortney admitted however that the incident could see an increase in violence in the region, with Somali pirates possibly seeking revenge on U.S. ships and crewmembers.

"This could escalate violence in this part of the world, no question about it," he told reporters.

According to the UN, Somali pirates carried out at least 120 attacks on ships in 2008, resulting in combined ransom payouts of around $150 million.

Around 20 warships from the navies of at least 10 countries, including Russia, are involved in anti-piracy operations off Somalia. The East African country, ravaged by years of civil war, has no functioning government.


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