- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 12, 2009

ROME (AP) - The owner of an Italian-flagged tugboat seized by pirates off Somalia marveled Sunday at the U.S. Navy rescue of an American hostage there, and said he hopes his crew also will be saved.

Silvio Bartoletti, owner of shipping company Micoperi, said he wasn’t any more concerned for his crew’s safety following the operation by U.S. Navy Seals to free Capt. Richard Phillips.

The American forces opened fire on three pirates when a Navy commander quickly decided that Phillips’ life was in danger on the lifeboat where he was being held hostage.

Asked about the rescue, Bartoletti told The Associated Press: “I’m marveling that they’d do that for one American.” Regarding his own ship, with 10 Italians and six crew members aboard, he said: “I hope in the next days we could also have positive news.”

The Micoperi tugboat Buccaneer was seized on Saturday by pirates off the northern Somali coast along with its crew, which in addition to the Italians includes five Romanians and a Croat.

Bartoletti said no ransom had been demanded as of yet.

While marveling at the American rescue, Bartoletti said he didn’t think an Italian military operation would be possible at this stage, saying it probably could have only succeeded in the early hours after the seizure.

“By now they (the pirates) are organized,” he said.

He did, however, suggest that U.S. forces in the region could help locate his ship.

“We hope the U.S. will help us get through this,” he said, suggesting U.S. satellite imagery could probably “show me the smile on my commander’s face.”

The Italian foreign ministry said Sunday the Italian navy ship Maestrale reached the area where the tug was seized and that officials from the foreign and defense ministries were working to coordinate efforts with Somalia’s transitional government in a bid to free the crew.

The ministry said it was providing scant other information, saying it was treating the case with maximum “reserve.”

Relatives of the seamen, meanwhile, said they were anxiously awaiting word on the fate of their loved ones.

Alessandra Costanzo, wife of Buccaneer Cmdr. Mario Iarlori, said she was desperate for information. In an interview with the AP, she said Micoperi officials had been in touch, but that they had no news.

“We don’t know anything,” she told the AP.

Costanzo said the tug left Singapore about 20 days and was heading toward Italy, due to return at the end of the month or beginning of May.

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