07 July 2005

UN suspends food shipments to Somali Tsunami victims after ship is hijacked

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has suspended all shipments of humanitarian assistance to Somalia following the hijacking of a chartered vessel carrying food aid for 28,000 tsunami survivors, the first time in the agency's history that a ship carrying relief food has been commandeered.

The decision, taken because of the insecurity of Somali waters, will be reviewed depending on the release of the food, vessel and crew, who are apparently being held for $500,000 ransom. WFP assists some 275,000 Somalis with 3,000 tons of food each month and currently has about two weeks' worth of food stocks in the country.

"If there is a quick, favourable solution, we hope there will be no major interruption of WFP operations in the country," WFP Country Director Robert Hauser said yesterday. "But for now, the waters off the Somali coast present too great a threat to send further shipments."

The St. Vincent and the Grenadines-registered MV Semlow, with 10 crew and 850 tons of rice on board, was hijacked on 27 June about 300 kilometres north-east of the capital Mogadishu, some 60 kilometres off the coast, while en route to the Puntland. The company hiring the boat has indicated that the pirates are asking for a $500,000 ransom.

"We remain hopeful that the humanitarian cargo on the MV Semlow will be allowed to continue its journey to Bossaso in the north-east of the country unconditionally," Mr. Hauser said.

WFP has been in regular contact with community elders and local authorities and a Transitional Federal Government mission went yesterday to Harardheere District to facilitate the release.

The agency regularly ships humanitarian cargo by sea from Mombasa in Kenya to various destinations in Somalia, totalling some 22,000 tons since January. The seized cargo would feed 28,000 Somalis whose lives were devastated by the December tsunami for two months.

WFP chartered the ship from Motaku Shipping Agency in Mombasa. The crew includes a Sri Lankan captain, a Tanzanian engineer and eight Kenyan crew members.

Source: www.allafrica.com


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