updated 4/11/2009 12:38:19 PM ET 2009-04-11T16:38:19

Somali pirates hijacked an Italian-flagged tugboat with 16 crew Saturday, a NATO spokeswoman said, as U.S. warships closely watched a lifeboat where an American captain was being held hostage for a fourth day.

The tugboat was hijacked in the Gulf of Aden off Somalia's northern coast as it was pulling barges, said Shona Lowe, a spokeswoman at NATO's Northwood maritime command center.

The Foreign Ministry in Rome confirmed 10 of the 16 crew members are Italian. The crew members also include five Romanians and one Croatian, according to Micoperi, the Italian maritime services company that owns the ship.

"We received an e-mail from the ship saying 'We are being attacked by pirates,' and after that, nothing," Silvio Bartolotti, the owner of the company, told The Associated Press.

The attack on the Italian boat took place as the American captain of the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama was held on a lifeboat watched by two U.S. warships, hundreds of miles from land. The two hijackings did not take place near each other and it was unclear whether they were related.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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