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updated 2/8/2011 9:00:17 AM ET 2011-02-08T14:00:17

Somali pirates firing small arms and rocket-propelled grenades hijacked an Italian-flagged oil tanker in the Indian Ocean on Tuesday, the European Union's anti-piracy task force said.

The pirates boarded the MV Savina Caylyn, an 873-foot tanker, after a sustained attack by a skiff carrying five suspected pirates, the EU force said in a statement.

The 104,255-ton ship was headed to Malaysia from Sudan when it was seized in the Indian Ocean.

Cmdr. Cosimo Nicastro of the Italian coast guard said there was an exchange of fire between the pirates and crew. Nicastro said the ship slowed down almost to a standstill, leading the coast guard to think the pirates had climbed on board. It then sped up again and resumed its course.

The EU said the ship had five Italian and 17 Indian crew members.

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The tanker is owned by Naples-based Fratelli D'Amato SpA shipbuilders. No one answered calls to the company's Naples office and e-mails seeking comment weren't immediately returned.

Pirates hold at least 29 ships and more than 680 hostages, including the Italian ship and crew, the EU Naval Force said.

The ship was built in 2008 and is one of about a dozen oil and chemical tankers in the company's fleet.

The Italian coast guard said it was alerted to the attack by a satellite alarm system all Italian ships have that registers with the coast guard's operations center in Rome.

An Italian Navy frigate was heading to the region.

Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991, and since then piracy has flourished off its coast, sometimes yielding millions of dollars in ransoms.

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Meanwhile, the Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs identified as a Filipino the slain crewman from the German-owned MV Beluga Nomination, which is still in pirates hands. The commander of the EU Naval Force, Maj. Gen. Buster Howes, told The Associated Press last week that pirates killed the crew member after breaching the ship's citadel.

"We condemn in no uncertain terms the killing of Mr. Farolito Vallega, a man who was merely doing his job and making an honest living for his family," the department said in statement. "His death is an unspeakable crime against an innocent person and adds to the list of heinous crimes already committed by these pirates."

The department, quoting a report by the ship's manning agency, said Vallega was shot and killed by Somali pirates on Jan. 26 in a fit of anger after two anti-piracy naval patrol vessels attempted a rescue mission two days earlier. Another Filipino seafarer, Elviro Salazar, is also reported missing.

It called on all concerned parties to release the Filipinos and other seafarers of different nationalities, and supported "more robust international action against piracy."

Somali pirates currently hold 121 Filipino seafarers on 11 hijacked ships.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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