The skipper of the USS Bainbridge said Tuesday that pirates repeatedly threatened to kill an American sea captain while holding him captive off the coast of Somalia.

Cmdr. Frank Castellano told The Associated Press that the pirates who held Capt. Richard Phillips hostage aboard a life boat for five days threatened to kill him multiple times.

"I can tell you throughout the entire event there were threats against his life," Castellano said. "There had been times of rising tension where they had verbally said it was their intention to kill him."

He added that it seemed "to be inevitable that that was their intention."

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U.S. special forces on the warship ended the standoff Sunday with three well placed, nighttime shots that killed the pirates after one of the captors could be seen holding his assault rifle toward Phillips.

Castellano did not give further details about Phillips' location, only that he was going to be reunited with his crew and then go home.

Phillips and his 19-man crew were attacked by pirates hundreds of miles off Somalia's eastern coast Wednesday. The 51-year-old captain, from Underhill, Vt., offered himself as a hostage to save his crew, who were able to retake their ship.

A team of 18 armed crewmembers from the US warship was sent to the Maersk Alabama as a precaution on its voyage onward to its destination of Mombasa, Kenya. The ship was loaded with food aid bound for Rwanda, Somalia and Uganda.

"A concern of ours was that there was going to be a pirate attack on the Maersk Alabama on her transit as she left the area," Castellano said.