Pirate attacks bring UN aid to Somalia to a halt

Monday, May 21, 2007

The port city of Merca in Somalia
Image: Tahir Turk (www.world66.com).

On Saturday, May 19, a ship chartered by the United Nations' (UN) World Food Programme (WFP), came under attack off the coast of Somalia after making a delivery in Merca.

Two speedboats with armed guards were sent out to intercept the attack. One of these men was killed. The ship which was headed to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, did not fall into the hands of the pirates.

Since the attack, WFP has suspended deliveries by ship. Shipping is the main and fastest way of getting food relief into Somalia. This comes just days after WFP announced that it was stepping up food deliveries.

"This attack underscores the growing problem of piracy off Somalia which, if unresolved, will sever the main artery of food assistance to the country – and to the people who rely on it for their survival," said Josette Sheeran, executive director of the WFP in a news release.

"Unless action is taken now, not only will our supply lines be cut, but also those of other aid agencies working in various parts of Somalia."

"WFP is very saddened and alarmed by the death of the guard, who showed great courage while the ship came under attack. We send our sincere condolences to his family," she continued. "We urge key nations to do their utmost to address this plague of piracy, which is now threatening our ability to feed one million Somalis."

This attack underscores the growing problem of piracy off Somalia which, if unresolved, will sever the main artery of food assistance to the country

—Josette Sheeran, WFP

"We are not taking any risks after being victims four times. We planned to go to Somali this week but following Saturday's incident our ship will not sail," said Karim Kudrat who owns MV Rozen, which was hijacked in February and released forty days later upon payment of ransom.

The United States Navy's Maritime Liaison Office (MARLO) in Bahrain has issued a warning, advising all ships to stay at least 200 nautical miles (NM) off the coast of Somalia.

This month alone, four ships have been hijacked by pirates and three of them are still being held. Two of the ships, South Korean fishing trawlers, were boarded some 210 NM off the coast, which is outside of Somalia's exclusive economic zone. Scores of crew members remain hostages. The sailors are said to be from China, India, Vietnam and South Korea.

Somali children waiting for food aid in 1992
Image: U.S. Defense Visual Information Center.

"Attacks have sprung up again because we believe there is no government in place to control the militants ... when the Islamists were in power there were no attacks," Cyrus Moday, a senior analyst at the International Maritime Bureau told Reuters.

An anonymous maritime security expert told BBC News: "We have evidence that the pirates have a main contact in Puntland and it's up to the interim government in Somalia to track and arrest the contact for taking part in an illegal syndicate."

"In the hope of enriching themselves, these pirates are very cruelly playing with the lives of the most vulnerable women and children who had to leave their homes because of fighting. We appeal to the Somali authorities to act to stop these pirates before they cause more misery both to the crews of hijacked ships and to the people who rely on WFP food for their survival," Peter Goossens, director of WFP Somalia, said.

Alleged pirates sometimes call themselves coast guards, claiming to protect Somali waters from polluters and illegal fishing.