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American Captain Freed by U.S. Snipers

04/13/2009 -Captain Richard Phillips, held hostage by Somali pirates for five days, was freed yesterday in a daring rescue operation by U.S. snipers,reports The New York Times.

Acting withPresident Obama’s authorization and in the belief that the hostage, Capt. Richard Phillips, was in imminent danger of being killed by captors armed with pistols and AK-47s, snipers on the fantail of the destroyer Bainbridge, which was towing the lifeboat on a 100-foot line, opened fire and picked off the three captors.

Two of the captors had poked their heads out of a rear hatch of the lifeboat, exposing themselves to clear shots, and the third could be seen through a window in the bow, pointing an automatic rifle at the captain, who was tied up inside the 18-foot lifeboat, senior Navy officials said.

It took only three remarkable shots — one each by snipers firing from a distance at dusk, using night-vision scopes, the officials said. Within minutes, rescuers slid down ropes from the Bainbridge, climbed aboard the lifeboat and found the three pirates dead. They then untied Captain Phillips, ending the contretemps at sea that had riveted much of the world’s attention. A fourth pirate had surrendered earlier.

The whole ordeal has also revived the debate over whether to arm ship crews,reports the Times.

Arthur Bowring, the managing director of the Hong Kong Shipowners Association, said that if ships carried weapons, they might draw attacks around the world from people seeking to steal the weapons.

Ship owners also do not want crews to be armed because few merchant sailors have combat training and because pirates with deep pockets from ransom payments will always be able to buy larger weapons than ship owners in any maritime arms race, said Mr. Bowring, who is also the chairman of the labor affairs committee of the International Shipping Federation, a trade group representing employers.

Bascially, ship owners fear an arms race at sea that will result in pirates with evermore sophisticated weapons and their crews no more safe. Regardless, most ports around the world have strict regulations concerning weapons on ships. The United States Coast Guard, for instance, is afraid weapons on board ships could be used to mount a terrorist attack.