Somalia: UN agencies urge end to piracy

Somalia: UN agencies urge end to piracy

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Piracy off the cost of Somalia is threatening commercial shipping and fishing while impeding the delivery of humanitarian assistance to hundreds of thousands of Somalis, the heads of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) said jointly today in an appeal for action to halt the practice.

Piracy off the cost of Somalia is threatening commercial shipping and fishing while impeding the delivery of humanitarian assistance to hundreds of thousands of Somalis, the heads of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) said jointly today in an appeal for action to halt the practice.

Since the collapse of the last national government in the East African country in 1991, delivering supplies by sea has been a logistical and security challenge, with a rise in the frequency of pirate attacks resulting in higher shipping costs and a significant reduction in the number of cargo vessels in the water.

“Close to 80 per cent of WFP’s assistance to Somalia is shipped by sea but, because of piracy, we have seen the availability of ships willing to carry food to the country cut by half,” said WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran.

There have been 15 attacks on ships – two on WFP-contracted vessels with a security guard being killed in one of them – in or near Somali waters so far this year. In 2006, there were 10 attacks.

“Pirates may have a romantic image on the silver screen these days, but the picture might not be quite so pretty from the point of view of someone stuck in a camp for internally displaced people in Somalia, dependent on food assistance for survival,” Ms. Sheeran said. “Much more has to be done to address this problem of piracy and, at WFP, we are much encouraged by the actions that IMO has taken recently for that purpose.”

WFP hopes to deliver food assistance for 1 million people in violence-wracked Somalia this year, as already high levels of malnutrition are being exacerbated by predicted crop failures, which could potentially lead to food shortages and rising prices.

The Secretary General of the IMO Efthimios E. Mitropoulos has requested UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to raise the issue of Somali piracy to the Security Council so that the 15-member body can ask the Transitional Federal Government to tackle the problem.

“In conjunction with other multi-faceted initiatives recently taken by IMO to address the issue effectively, this latest high-level approach to the Security Council, through Mr. Ban, will, I believe, help considerably in alleviating the situation, especially if support and assistance to ships is enhanced,” Mr. Mitropoulos said.

The Council, in March, 2006, responded to reports of piracy in a presidential statement which encouraged UN Member States with naval vessels and military aircraft operating in international waters and airspace adjacent to the coast of Somalia to be vigilant against piracy and to take action to protect merchant shipping, especially vessels being used to transport humanitarian aid.

The IMO suggested that the Council could now request the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia to give consent to ships to enter the country’s territorial waters when engaging in operations against pirates or suspected pirates and armed robbers endangering the safety of life at sea.

Due to rising attacks on vessels recently, IMO has lately taken a number of steps, including intensifying its coordination with WFP and the navies operating in the Western Indian Ocean region to bolster assistance to merchant ships.

“We would like to see a more coordinated and robust approach to dealing with the problem of piracy, from the Transitional Federal Government in Somalia, from neighbouring countries that have influence, and from the African Union,” said Ms. Sheeran.

“WFP is grateful for the continuing presence in the seas off Somalia of naval forces from several nations,” she added. “They have been helpful on occasion in the past and they offer a potential deterrence to pirates. But we need to explore how these resources can be brought more heavily into play to protect shipping and, thereby, the delivery by sea of life-saving humanitarian assistance.”