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Somali Pirates Release Italian Tugboat

An Italian tugboat and its crew of 16, seized by Somali pirates four months ago, has been released. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini expressed his satisfaction at the outcome after months of negotiations.

The Italian-flagged tugboat Buccaneer was hijacked in the Gulf of Aden on April 11. On board was a crew of 10 Italians, 5 Romanians and one Croatian. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said that the Somali prime minister informed him directly about the vessel's release and said it was the result of exceptional work on the part of Somalia authorities and Italian intelligence.

Frattini said Italy was involved in strong political action with local and Somali authorities that finally made the pirates understand that there was no other possibility but that of releasing the hostages.

Frattini stressed that the ship was not freed as the result of military action and he said that no ransom was paid. However, there are news reports that a ransom was paid.

The foreign minister said the release and withdrawal of the pirates occurred in the most simple way. He added that special Italian forces on board the San Giorgio Italian military vessel have confirmed that they were boarding the Buccaneer and were able to check that the pirates had freed the ship and that the crew had resumed full control.

The Buccaneer and its crew is now being escorted by navy vessels and is on its way to Djibouti. The Italian crew expects to be able to be back home by mid-August.

A German freighter was also released by Somali pirates after nearly four months last week and arrived Saturday in the Kenyan port of Mombasa with the 24-member crew "exhausted" but in good condition.

Pirates have launched more than 100 attacks this year in the Gulf of Aden, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, and are currently holding about a dozen vessels.