Naval escorts from the Netherlands and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) are providing vital protection from pirate attacks off Somalia for United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) ships loaded with life-saving aid for the war-ravaged country.
“More than 2 million Somalis could go hungry without this protection,” WFP said in its latest update on the pirate-ridden waters off the coast of the Horn of Africa country, where the seizure of a weapons-laden Ukrainian ship made headlines earlier this year.
Chartered WFP ships have been a frequent target for ransom-seeking privateers but since the naval escort system began in November 2007, no pirate attacks have been launched against ships loaded with WFP food despite 2008 being the worst year ever for piracy off Somalia.
There have been more than 80 such attacks so far this year, including 32 hijackings, compared with 31 attacks in 2007, according to the London-based International Maritime Bureau. More than 500 crew members have been taken hostage so far this year.
Under the protection system, two vessels loaded with a total of 18,500 metric tons of WFP food arrived safely in Mogadishu from the Kenyan port of Mombasa on 26 October under the escort of the Dutch frigate HNLMS De Ruyter. HNLMS De Ruyter is due to escort WFP ships to Somalia into December.
On 28 October, the Greek frigate HS Themistokles, one of three vessels in a NATO task force off Somalia entrusted with escorting WFP ships and other anti-piracy missions, escorted a ship loaded with 2,700 tons of WFP food to the beach port of Merka, 100 kilometres southwest of the capital Mogadishu.
NATO and Dutch naval vessels are continuing their escort missions in November to Mogadishu and Merka. With three naval vessels available for escorts, WFP will have a succession of ships delivering food assistance to Somalia, which requires 40,000 metric tons of WFP food every month.
European Union foreign ministers agreed on 10 November to dispatch five to seven frigates and support aircraft to the Horn of Africa in December to protect merchant ships and WFP vessels bringing food to Somalia.