16 Sailors Freed by Somali Pirates

Sixteen sailors, including 10 Italians, whose tug was seized by Somali pirates four months ago are free after the pirates abandoned the ship, Italian authorities said Monday.

Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told SkyTg24 television news that the Somali Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke notified him of the release in a phone call Sunday evening.

Italian and Somali authorities had been working together gathering intelligence and applying diplomacy to win the hostages' release, Frattini said.

"There was a very strong political intervention" between the Somali government and local authorities "who made the pirates understand that the only solution was the liberation of the hostages," Frattini said on SkyTg24. "The pirates withdrew."

The Foreign Ministry said no ransom was paid.

The Italian-flagged Buccaneer tug was seized April 11 in the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden with a crew of 10 Italians, five Romanians and a Croat. The Italian navy ship Maestrale reached the area immediately after and maintained surveillance of the tug throughout the ordeal, ministry officials said.

Officials aboard the Maestrale confirmed that the pirates had abandoned the ship, and that the crew had retaken control, Frattini said.

"Italian special forces were there to avoid any danger, which there never was," Frattini said.

The sailors were expected to reach home within a few days.

"We are so happy that this is finally over," Alessandra Costanzo, wife of Buccaneer Cmdr. Mario Iarlori, told The Associated Press by telephone.

"I spoke to my husband briefly, he just called to say they are free."

Costanzo said she did not have any information on when the sailors would return home or how they were freed.

"It was all very stressful. This is such a big relief. We hope the moment will soon come when we can hug him again," she said.