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Pirate says US$4 mln ransom paid for Italian tugboat

SOMALI pirates received a US$4 million ransom to free an Italian cargo ship that was seized four months ago with a crew of 16, a member of the gang that held it captive said today.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said yesterday the Buccaneer was freed after "exceptional work" on the part of Somali authorities and the Italian intelligence service.

The owners of the Buccaneer, Ravenna-based Micoperi Marine Contractors, said yesterday the ship was not freed as a result of military action or ransom payment.

"We have taken US$4 million ransom and freed the Italian tugboat. It has already gone," pirate Aden said.

Andrew Mwangura, coordinator of regional maritime group, East African Seafarers' Assistance Programme, said the pirates received US$5 million.

"They were counting the money last evening," he told Reuters by telephone.

The Buccaneer was hijacked on April 11 in the Gulf of Aden along with two barges. It is now on its way to the port of Djibouti escorted by naval vessels.

It was crewed by 10 Italians, five Romanians and a Croatian.

A flotilla of foreign naval vessels off Somalia has failed to quell the rampant piracy, which has affected one of the world's busiest shipping lanes that links Europe to Asia.


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