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Piracy continues to threaten humanitarian aid to Somalia – UN agency

Piracy continues to threaten humanitarian aid to Somalia – UN agency

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has condemned an attempted pirate attack off the coast of Somalia, the latest incident in an already tense and insecure environment which witnessed the detention of one of the agency’s officials last week.

Early on Sunday morning, WFP received a distress call from a Somali contractor who came under attack from pirates in two speed boats some 60 miles off the Somali port of Brava, south of Mogadishu. The ship had just unloaded some 7,000 tons of food and was sailing back to Mombasa, Kenya.

Although the vessel and its crew escaped unhurt, the agency said it remains very concerned about piracy off the Somali coast and appealed to the international community to help secure the waters off Somalia and protect humanitarian deliveries.

Some 80 per cent of WFP food assistance for Somalia moves by sea, and pirate attacks threaten to cut the main supply route, jeopardizing rations for the 1.2 million people WFP expects to be feeding by the end of 2007 as drought, floods and factional fighting take their toll.

Arrangements are now being made for a French naval vessel to escort WFP cargos next month.

Meanwhile, discussions are continuing with the Somali authorities to obtain the release of the agency’s Officer-in-Charge for Mogadishu, Idris Osman, who has been detained without charge since Wednesday.

Mr. Osman was seized when up to 60 uniformed and armed members of Somalia National Security Service stormed a UN compound in Mogadishu. He remains captive at NSS headquarters.

Condemning the continued detention of her colleague, WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran last Friday decried the lack of security for humanitarian workers in countries such as Somalia and called on the government to ensure their safety.

“It has become extremely difficult for us to feed hundreds of thousands of hungry people in Mogadishu and throughout Somalia. We are operating in an environment which is fraught with insecurity: piracy, banditry and widespread violence. We need the Government to protect humanitarian workers,” she stated.