Pirates captured an Italian-flagged tugboat with 16 crew including 10 Italians today, in the latest hijacking in the busy Gulf of Aden. The tugboat, with enough fuel and food on board to last a month, was believed to be heading toward the Somali coast, the head of the Italian company that owns the boat told Reuters. “I’ve entered into contact with the families (of the crew),” Claudio Bartolotti, head of Ravenna-based Micoperi Srl, said, adding there were also five Romanians and one Croatian on board.Bartolotti denied reports the 75-meter-long tugboat was U.S.-owned, saying his company had recently purchased it.
NATO alliance officials on a warship in the region had previously described the boat as U.S.-owned, Italian-flagged.
Andrew Mwangura, of the Mombasa-based East African Seafarers’ Assistance Programme, said the tugboat’s crew were believed to be unharmed.
He said the tugboat was towing two barges at the time of capture but there were no details about their cargo.
“This incident shows the pirates are becoming more daring and violent,” Mwangura told Reuters by phone.
NATO alliance officials on board the Portuguese warship NRP Corte-Real, which is patrolling the Gulf of Aden, said a distress call came from the MV Buccaneer tugboat but communications were lost six minutes later.
Bartolotti said he received an email around midday (1000 GMT) informing him that the pirates had taken the ship. He said it came from the tugboat captain’s email address but did not appear to be written by him.
He said calls to the boat so far had not been answered.
Bartolotti said he had received word that an Italian navy warship, the Maestrale, was heading toward the area where the tugboat was hijacked.
Somali pirates have stepped up attacks in March after a lull at the start of 2009.
International interest has focused this week on the plight of an American hostage, Richard Phillips, held by four pirates on a lifeboat flanked by U.S. naval warships in a high seas standoff since Wednesday.