The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today expressed its gratitude to the European Union (EU) for protecting ships carrying vital food aid from rampant piracy off the coast of Somalia.
The EU has launched Operation Atlanta, which sends naval escorts for vessels, including ships transporting WFP aid to the Horn of Africa nation, where nearly half of the population requires assistance, according to the UN.
“Pirates have been threatening to cut off the humanitarian lifeline to Somalia, but now the EU is providing the comprehensive protection we have been calling for,” said Ramiro Lopes da Silva, WFP’s Deputy Chief Operating Officer.
The escorts will allow WFP – which sends 90 per cent of its assistance to the country by sea – to “guarantee a flow of food assistance to the people of Somalia who are suffering from drought, conflict and the impact of high food prices,” he added.
The first of the ships to be protected by the EU is the MV Semlow, which left the Kenyan port of Mombasa yesterday, loaded with enough supplies to feed 50,000 people for a month. The vessel is being accompanied by the British frigate, HMS Northumberland.
Atlanta is the EU’s first-ever naval operation, and will also provide escorts for commercial shipping as well as aerial surveillance and measures to deter, prevent and intervene to curb piracy and armed robbery off the Somali coast.
This year has seen the largest number of pirate attacks in the region ever, topping 100, but WFP has still sent 60 shipments of over one quarter million metric tons of food, enough to feed 1.3 million people for one year.
Several governments have provided naval escorts for ships carrying food aid since last November, and as a result, no ship carrying WFP supplies has been attacked since then.
The Security Council has called on all countries and regional organizations with the necessary capacity to deploy naval ships and military aircraft off the Somali coast to fight piracy which is impeding UN efforts to feed millions of hungry civilians in the strife-torn country.
Acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter authorizing the use of force, the 15-member body called for the “seizure and disposition of boats, vessels, arms and other related equipment” used or suspected of being used for piracy, which has recently reached a peak off the coast of the Horn of Africa country with the hijacking of a Ukrainian arms ship and a Saudi oil tanker.
Earlier this month, a senior UN humanitarian official cautioned that without more effective aid, Somalia’s population faces total destitution next year.
“The crisis in Somalia is a prolonged crisis, a crisis that’s gone on for 17 years,” Mark Bowden, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the country, told reporters in New York.
He said that the crisis is at a difficult stage, with the population reeling from three years of drought, noting that the coming year is a “make or break” one for Somalia.
Piracy will be one of the main topics of discussion at a meeting tomorrow of the International Contact Group (ICG), led by Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative.
United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is scheduled to join several senior ministers attending parts of the discussion during the day-long event at UN Headquarters in New York.