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US Mulls Difficult Choices In Standoff With Somali Pirates

WASHINGTON (AFP)--The Pentagon faced difficult choices Saturday in the standoff with Somali pirates holding a U.S. merchant captain captive, even as pirates hijacked another vessel. Pirates on Saturday captured an Italian tugboat in the Gulf of Aden, taking 10 Italians, five Romanians and a Croat who were on board, ship owner Claudio Bartolotti told AFP from Ravenna, northern Italy, where his company is based. Earlier reports had suggested that the boat was U.S.-owned, but operating under an Italian flag. In Washington, the Pentagon said it was "looking into" the media reports, but had no further comment. A U.S. military spokesman also declined to comment on how the U.S. navy would react if the pirates holding Captain Richard Phillips in a lifeboat manage to get him to another vessel, as they have threatened. Phillips was captain of the freighter Maersk Alabama, which pirates stormed earlier this week. The freighter's U.S. sailors managed to regain control of the ship, but the pirates fled taking Phillips hostage. "We are planning to transfer the hostage on to one of the ships our friends are holding around Garacad area so that we can wait," pirate commander Abdi Garad told AFP earlier Saturday, referring to an area in the Gulf of Aden. Two U.S. warships, the destroyer USS Bainbridge and the frigate USS Halyburton, are in the tense standoff near the lifeboat in the Gulf of Aden. The heightened military presence backs up the efforts of FBI experts attempting to negotiate Phillips' release. Phillips jumped into the water overnight Thursday to Friday and tried to swim to the USS Bainbridge, but pirates jumped in and recaptured him, U.S. military officials said. Phillips' wife Andrea, who lives in Vermont, released a statement through the shipping firm Maersk Line, Limited on Friday thanking the public for the support she has received. "We have felt the compassion of the world through your concern for Richard," she said, adding that her husband "is a strong man and we will remain strong for him. "We ask that you do the same," she said. Maersk said it would hold a press conference Saturday in Norfolk, Virginia to discuss the condition of the crew of the Alabama after it safely arrived in Mombasa, Kenya. The company said that for security reasons the vessel "will berth in a restricted area" of Mombasa, and the crew, all US citizens, will not talk to reporters. "FBI officers will debrief members of the crew on board the vessel before they disembark," the company statement read. Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported senior officials in President Barack Obama's administration were debating a course of action. Some in the Defense Department, the paper said, have been frustrated by what they see as a failure to act. But many other national security officials say an ill-considered strike would have negative diplomatic and political consequences far beyond the Horn of Africa. The Post said options under consideration include increased financial pressure and diplomatic activity, including stepped-up efforts to resolve the larger political turmoil in Somalia.

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