Somalia: ship hijacking hinders UN effort to contract vessels to bring urgent food aid
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned today that it is facing increasing difficulties in contracting ships to deliver urgent food aid to hungry Somalis following the hijacking of one of its chartered vessels, now in its 10th day, off the coast of the East African country.
WFP already has 2,423 metric tons of food aid waiting at port in Tanzania, and despite calling for shipping contracts a week ago, there has been no expression of interest. Usually competitive bids are received within days.
“This is a direct result of the hijacking, and it threatens our ability to get food into Somalia ahead of the upcoming rainy season,” WFP Country Director Peter Goossens said. “It’s vital that this situation is fully resolved quickly, and that all groups respect humanitarian access and delivery corridors in Somalia.”
The next rains are expected in mid April and even light rainfall is enough to close down key sections of the dilapidated road network that has seen little or no repair work since the fall of the Siad Barre regime in 1991, since when the country has been torn by factional fighting and lacked an effective central government. Food stocks need to be moved to strategic locations well in advance.
WFP has more than 14,000 metric tons of food within Somalia, enough for immediate needs, but supplies must be continually replenished. While a vessel can carry thousands of tons in a single voyage, the largest trucks with trailers moving through Somalia can take only 30 metric tons each, and many carry less.
While WFP uses road convoys to move food across the border from Kenya into nearby regions, transporting large amounts the length of the country is up to 40 per cent more expensive, slower, and also dangerous. WFP-contracted truck convoys are vulnerable to hijacking and hold-ups at impromptu checkpoints mounted by local militias and armed groups.
As he has done since the MV Rozen was hijacked on 25 February shortly after it unloaded 1,800 metric tonnes of food aid and equipment in northern Somalia, Mr. Goossens appealed for the release of the 12 crew members seized with the vessel, which is now anchored off Gara’ad close to the border of the northern and central regions of Somalia.
“With every day that goes on, the ordeal becomes so much worse for the crew and their families; we need to get them home safe,” he said. “It’s vital that the crew and the vessel are released – safely and immediately.”
The hijacking was the fourth such attack on UN supply vessels off Somalia in 20 months.
In 2005, after two earlier hijacks, WFP temporarily had to suspend 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.