A second boatload of United Nations food aid for 78,000 of the most vulnerable people in Somalia has been hijacked, less than two weeks after pirates released a ship with 850 tons of rice that they had seized three months earlier.
“It is scandalous that a small number of profiteers would once again hijack humanitarian food supplies destined for fellow Somalis,” UN World Food Programme (WFP) Country Director Robert Hauser said of the attack yesterday on the UN-chartered ship Miltzow in Merka, 100 kilometres southwest of Mogadishu, the capital.
The St. Vincent and Grenadines-registered Miltzow was being offloaded when six gunmen stormed the ship and forced it to leave the port. Some 400 tons of the total cargo of 850 tons of WFP food aid remained on board. The cargo – 703 tons of maize, 108 tons of beans and 39 tons of vegetable oil – was destined for the Lower Juba Valley, home to people who have repeatedly been affected by droughts and floods.
In June, the WFP-chartered Semlow, carrying 850 tons of rice for 28,000 tsunami survivors in the Puntland region, was stormed by gunmen off the coast of central Somalia, the first time in WFP history that a ship carrying relief food has been hijacked. It was released to the El Maan Port Authorities on 4 October.
Somalia has been without a functioning central government and has been riven by factional fighting ever since the collapse of President Muhammad Siad Barre’s regime in 1991.
The Miltzow’s cargo is part of WFP’s ongoing free emergency distribution in Jilib district, an area affected by civil strife, floods and, recently, complete failure of seasonal rains and harvest. Its 10-member crew includes a Kenyan captain, a Ugandan engineer and eight Kenyan crew members.
The governor of the Lower Shabelle Region, Yusuf Indha Adde, immediately sent two small boats to pursue the vessel but no further details are available.
After initially suspending shipments to Somalia for security concerns in early July, WFP resumed food deliveries to ensure that its operations continue. Given the continued insecurity off the coast of Somalia, the agency is looking at various alternative routes including overland from Kenya and through Djibouti. Shipping companies are currently demanding armed escorts.
WFP aims to provide 1 million people in Somalia with food in 2005.