SHIP CAPTAIN DIDN’T REALIZE HE WAS BEING RESCUED FROM PIRATES

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MONTPELIER, Vt. — The cargo ship captain held by Somali pirates didn’t know at first that the gunshots that killed his three captors came from the U.S. Navy, he said during a television interview broadcast Tuesday. Until he heard an American voice, captain Richard Phillips thought a dispute among the pirates had turned violent.

Phillips, of Underhill, said he heard the shots and dived for the bottom of the lifeboat where he had been held hostage for five days.

“I just wanted to get as low as I could,” Phillips said in the interview with NBC’s “Today” show.

“For me it felt like five minutes. It was probably seven, eight seconds. I have no idea,” Phillips said. “Time was fractured for me. So it felt very long for me. It probably indeed wasn’t.”

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Phillips, 53, was taken hostage April 8 after four Somali pirates assaulted his ship, the Maersk Alabama. He was rescued April 12.

In the “Today” show interview, he provided additional details of his attempted escape. Phillips said he had been in contact with the crew on his ship and told them if they saw a splash in the water it meant he had jumped off the lifeboat.

Late April 9 or early April 10, the pirate who was watching him had put down his AK-47 assault rifle so he could go to the bathroom, Phillips said.

“It was just a split-second decision,” Phillips said.

Phillips pushed the pirate into the water and then dived in.

“I was trying to hold my breath as long as I can. I do a little swimming. So I did that twice before I turned around,” Phillips said.

“So, I would say I was probably 50 feet from the boat, maybe a little more. They were still turning around trying to get their buddy. But when they got their buddy, they were coming at me. And by then I was just swimming toward the naval ship.”

The Navy destroyer, the USS Bainbridge, was about a half mile away.

Phillips said the pirates shot at him, but the NBC interview didn’t specifically address what halted his escape attempt. He returned to the lifeboat where he stayed until he was rescued.

See Related: KIDNAPPED SHIP CAPTAIN FREED – THREE OF FOUR PIRATES KILLED

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