Somali Pirates Foil Escape, Threaten to Kill American Captain

After reports emerged today about Phillips' daring escape attempt, his sister-in-law Gina Coggio told ABC News, "The family is not making any comment."

High-Seas Drama: The Standoff Begins

The high-seas drama settled into a standoff after the pirates boarded the container ship Maersk Alabama Wednesday while firing AK-47 assault rifles, but were forced off the ship a short time later by the unarmed 20-member American crew who captured one of the pirates.

Phillips apparently prevented a bloody counterattack by the pirates by offering himself as a hostage. A prisoner exchange was arranged, but the pirates didn't keep their part of the bargain and refused to let the captain go free.

Gina Coggio told "Good Morning America" today that she believes Phillips tried to save his crew from any pirate gunfire by volunteering to be their hostage.

"What I understand is he offered himself as the hostage to keep the rest of the crew safe," Coggio told "GMA." "That is what he would do, that's just who he is, and his responsibility as the captain."

Another sister-in-law, Lea Coggio, agreed. "That's my brother-in-law, thinking of his crew, ship and cargo as well. That's Richard."

Murphy's mother, Marianne Murphy, told ABC News she was proud of her rough and tumble son for taking on the pirates.

"All those GI Joe dolls I bought him paid off," Marianne Murphy said.

Lea Coggio described Phillips, a former Boston cabbie, as a lovable daredevil.

"He liked going one-way streets the wrong way," Coggio said. "He's fun to be around, easygoing, lovable guy. ... There'll be a good story to tell when he gets through this, but on board it's serious business," she said.

Capt. Joseph Murphy, the father of Philips' second-in-command on the Alabama, teaches maritime cadets about piracy at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy.

"Capt. Phillips will survive, he'll be fine," Murphy told "GMA." "The pirates put themselves in a tenuous situation. They have to negotiate."

In an interview last month, Shane Murphy talked about the danger faced by cargo ships from pirates.

"All the vessels transiting the areas are on heightened watch capabilities. Everyone is prepared. They are putting up as much of a defense as they can," he said. "There is no telling when or where the attacks are going to happen and the amount of vessels that transit the area, it is impossible to patrol them all. ... The difference with the Somali pirates is they are more just armed thugs or bandits and they are ruled by the law of the gun in that country now."

Fifth Fleet on Pirate Patrol

The U.S. Fifth Fleet heads an international naval task force to deter piracy off the coast of Somalia. The European Union and NATO also have naval task forces in the area to combat pirates. Just Tuesday, they issued a new warning to mariners in the region about increased pirate activity.

Mwangura said the attack on the Maersk Alabama demonstrates the change in the pirates' tactics by attacking ships away from the Gulf of Aden to the Indian Ocean where most of the Navy task force is concentrated. The pirates are now hunting in the Indian Ocean east and south-east of the Somali and Kenyan coastline.

Maersk Alabama was the sixth ship to be taken hostage in five days, and five of them have been captured in the last 48 hours.

At least three have been hijacked near the Seychelles Islands, some 400 miles south of the Somali coastline, and well out of the range of the Gulf of Aden where the Navy is patrolling.

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