Mr Phillips was freed unharmed but the US military killed three Somali kidnappers who were holding him hostage on a lifeboat, according to reports. A fourth pirate is in custody. Initial reports said the sailor jumped overboard before a gunfight broke out between his captors and US Navy Seals. US President Barack Obama gave authority to kill the pirates, and a commander acted when he concluded the pirates were about to kill the hostage, a US Navy official said. Mr Phillips has now contacted his family, received a medical evaluation, and is resting aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer. His ship the Maersk Alabama, a container carrying food aid for Somalians, was attacked far out in the Indian Ocean on Wednesday, but its 20 American crew apparently fought off the pirates and regained control. Crew members said Mr Phillips volunteered to go with the pirates in a lifeboat in exchange for safe passage for his crew.