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Pirates hijack Italian tugboat in Gulf of Aden

  • Story Highlights
  • Before hijacking, Italian tugboat sent distress call to a NATO ship
  • Pirates seized tug, pulling two barges, in the Gulf of Aden
  • Boat owners received e-mail from the captain saying the boat had been seized
  • 10 Italians, five Romanians and one Croatian aboard tugboat
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(CNN) -- An Italian tugboat sent a distress call to a NATO ship Saturday before it was hijacked by pirates in the Gulf of Aden, the tug's owner told CNN.

Claudio Bartolotti owns Micoperi Marine Contractors, based in the Italian city of Ravenna. He said he spoke with the captain of the Buccaneer at 11 a.m., and all was well.

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An hour later, Micoperi received an e-mail from the captain saying the boat had been seized by pirates, Bartolotti said. He has heard nothing since.

The Buccaneer, which flies an Italian flag, has 16 crew members -- 10 Italians, five Romanians and one Croatian. It was pulling two barges.

The Gulf of Aden is off the East African nations of Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia.

Earlier Saturday, Cmdr. Chris Davies from the Northwood Maritime Command center in the United Kingdom, said a NATO ship about 100 miles away from the tug picked up its distress call, but was too far away to help.

Davies had described the Buccaneer as American-owned, flying an Italian flag. He said the pirates approached the tug at 11:46 a.m., and within about five minutes it was in their hands.

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