April 11, 2009 / 2:43 PM / 10 years ago

Pirates seize U.S.-owned, Italy-flagged tugboat

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Pirates seized a U.S.-owned and Italian-flagged tugboat with 16 crew on Saturday in the latest hijacking in the busy Gulf of Aden waterway, a regional maritime group said.

Andrew Mwangura, of the Mombasa-based East African Seafarers’ Assistance Programme, said the crew were believed to be unharmed on the tugboat, which he added was operated from the United Arab Emirates.

He said the tugboat was towing two barges at the time of capture but there were no details on 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 NRB 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.

They said 10 of the tugboat’s crew were Italian citizens.

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.

Additional reporting by Andrew Cawthorne in Nairobi and Alison Bevege on the NRB Corte-Real

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