MOMBASA, Kenya (AP) -- Hailed by his crew as a hero and by President Barack Obama for his bravery, American sea captain Richard Phillips celebrated his freedom from Somali pirates yesterday and contemplated chocolate Easter eggs with his son back home in Vermont.

MOMBASA, Kenya (AP) -- Hailed by his crew as a hero and by President Barack Obama for his bravery, American sea captain Richard Phillips celebrated his freedom from Somali pirates yesterday and contemplated chocolate Easter eggs with his son back home in Vermont.

But the 53-year-old Phillips is only one hostage. There are 230 sailors from different countries on more than a dozen other ships, and for them the deadly end to Phillips' five-day ordeal in a lifeboat in the Indian Ocean brought fear, not fanfare.

Phillips was rescued by Navy snipers on the fantail of a destroyer, who opened fire in a nighttime assault yesterday when they saw one of the pirates holding an AK-47 to the captain's back. The three pirates were killed, and a fourth who had surrendered earlier was in U.S. custody.

It was a stunning ending to a five-day Indian Ocean odyssey that began when the freighter captain was taken hostage Wednesday by pirates who tried to hijack the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama. The Vermont native was held on a 28-foot lifeboat that began drifting precariously toward Somalia's anarchic shores.

The operation, personally approved by Obama, quashed fears that the saga could drag on for months and marked a victory for the U.S., which for days seemed powerless to resolve the crisis despite massing helicopter-equipped warships at the scene.

One of the pirates pointed an AK-47 at the back of Phillips, who was tied up and in "imminent danger" of being killed when captain Frank Castellano, commander of the USS Bainbridge -- a guided-missile destroyer that was towing the lifeboat from about 30 yards away -- made the split-second decision to order his men to shoot, Vice Adm. Bill Gortney said.

A fourth pirate was in discussions with naval authorities about Phillips' fate when the rescue took place. He surrendered, is in U.S. custody and could face life in a U.S. prison.

The rescue was a dramatic blow to the pirates who have preyed on international shipping and hold more than a dozen ships with about 230 foreign sailors. But it is unlikely to do much to quell the region's growing pirate threat, which has transformed one of the world's busiest shipping lanes into one of its most dangerous. It also risked provoking retaliatory attacks.

"This could escalate violence in this part of the world, no question about it," said Gortney, the commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command.

Abdullahi Lami, one of the pirates holding a Greek ship anchored in the Somali town of Gaan, said: "Every country will be treated the way it treats us. In the future, America will be the one mourning and crying. We will retaliate (for) the killings of our men."

Jamac Habeb, a 30-year-old self-proclaimed pirate, said: "From now on, if we capture foreign ships and their respective countries try to attack us, we will kill them (the hostages)."

Phillips was not hurt in several minutes of gunfire, and the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet said he was resting comfortably despite having spent more than 100 hours adrift in 110-degree-plus temperatures with limited food and water.

"I'm just the byline. The real heroes are the Navy, the Seals, those who have brought me home," Phillips said by phone to Maersk Line Limited President and CEO John Reinhart.

A spokeswoman for the Phillips family, Alison McColl, said Phillips and his wife, Andrea, spoke by phone shortly after he was freed.

Aboard the Bainbridge, sailors also passed along a message from Andrea Phillips: "Richard, your family loves you, your family is praying for you, and your family is saving a chocolate Easter egg for you, unless your son eats it first."

Obama telephoned Phillips after his release, then said Phillips had courage that was "a model for all Americans." He added that the United States needs help from other countries to deal with the threat of piracy and to hold pirates accountable.

The 19 crew members of Phillips' 17,000-ton ship, which docked Saturday in Mombasa, Kenya, erupted into wild cheers. Some waved an American flag.

On Wednesday, the ship had been carrying food aid bound for Rwanda, Somalia and Uganda when pirates began firing on them hundreds of miles off Somalia's eastern coast. Phillips told his crew to lock themselves in a cabin and surrendered himself to safeguard his men, crew members said.

Phillips was then taken hostage in an enclosed lifeboat that was soon shadowed by three U.S. warships and a helicopter in a standoff that grew by the day.

The captain of the USS Bainbridge began talking to the pirates under instruction from FBI hostage negotiators on board the U.S. destroyer, but negotiations broke down late Saturday. The stumbling block, Somali officials said, was Americans' insistence that the pirates be arrested and brought to justice.

Somalis with knowledge of the discussions said the pirates, who at one time had demanded $2 million for Phillips' release, had grown desperate with their situation -- adrift under a searing sun in waters infested with sharks, staring at two Navy ships armed with guided missiles, running low on fuel and having spent their ammunition.

"The only thing they could bargain with was the captain, but the Americans would not accept," said a relative of one of the pirates, Hassan Mohammed Farah.

Phillips jumped out of the lifeboat Friday and tried to swim for his freedom, but he was recaptured.

The U.S. Navy had assumed the pirates would try to get their hostage to shore, where they could have hidden him on Somalia's lawless soil and been in a stronger position to negotiate.

Pirates are holding about a dozen ships with more than 200 crew members, according to the International Maritime Bureau. Hostages are from Bulgaria, China, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, the Philippines, Russia, Taiwan, Tuvalu and Ukraine, among other countries.

Information from McClatchy Newspapers was included in this story.