Hijackers have released a United Nations ship carrying food aid for 78,000 of the most vulnerable people in Somalia after seizing it on Wednesday while it was unloading in port.
“We are very relieved that the crew are all unharmed and that the food aid is intact,” UN World Food Programme (WFP) Deputy Country Director Leo van der Velden said of the second hijacking of an agency ship in three months.
“Fortunately this particular shipment is only slightly delayed, but with two hijackings in three months we will have to consider alternatives to secure the safety of both the people and food involved in our operations,” he said of the strife-torn Horn of Africa country, which has been without a functioning government for 14 years.
The MV Miltzow, its crew and cargo were released at midnight yesterday, after a representative of the contractor together with the district commissioner boarded the ship to negotiate, and it can now proceed with delivering its relief cargo for drought-stricken people in southern Somalia.
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.
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.
After initially suspending shipments in early July, WFP resumed food deliveries to ensure that its operations continue. Given the ongoing 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 a total of 1 million people in Somalia with food this year.