Authorities in northern Somalia today arrested four men alleged to be part of a group that hijacked a United Nations-contracted food aid ship, but the vessel itself and its 12-member crew still remained in the hands of the pirates six miles off the coast.
“The arrest is welcome news, but the safe release of the crew and the vessel remains our chief concern,” UN World Food Programme (WFP) Country Director Peter Goossens said. “We very much hope this ordeal will finish soon.”
The four men were arrested when they went ashore to buy supplies in the town of Bargal in Puntland, but four other hijackers remain in control of the MV Rozen, which was seized by the pirates on Sunday shortly after it unloaded 1,800 metric tonnes of food aid and equipment - the fourth such attack on UN supply vessels off the strife-ridden East African country in 20 months.
The ship, with its crew of six Sri Lankans, including the captain, and six Kenyans, is now reported to be surrounded by five of the Puntland authorities’ police and sailing southward.
“We are appealing for the safe return of the crew and the vessel as soon as possible, and for people to respect the need for humanitarian delivery corridors,” Mr. Goossens said. “Somalia is one of the poorest countries in the world, and there are families whose lives depend on our ability to get food aid through.”
In 2005, after two earlier hijackings, WFP temporarily suspended deliveries of food aid by sea for some weeks, but since then sea deliveries have been uninterrupted, even during the worst days of the conflict between the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) at the end of last year. The MV Rozen itself escaped an attempted hijack in southern Somali waters last year.
In 2006, WFP delivered some 78,000 metric tonnes of relief food to 1.4 million people affected by drought and floods in southern Somalia.