Several ships carrying United Nations emergency relief supplies bound for Somalia have become the latest victims of piracy off the Horn of Africa, prompting the World Food Programme (WFP) to express concern that millions of people in the strife-torn region could go hungry.
If the Sea Horse vessel, hijacked on 14 April heading for India to load up with over 7,000 tons of food meant for Somalia, is not quickly released or replaced by another ship, WFP fears that the suffering already inflicted on Somalis will be compounded.
The agency noted that last week’s attack on the Maersk Alabama - briefly sequestered en route to Mombasa, Kenya, while carrying aid for several organisations, including WFP – marked a turning point, as European Union naval escorts had kept WFP shipments secure since they began in November 2007.
WFP stressed that the Kenyan port, which received more than 500,000 tons of WFP food in 2008, is essential to its operations in Somalia and elsewhere in Eastern and Central Africa.
If food assistance cannot arrive through Mombasa before being re-routed to Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, southern Sudan and the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), millions of people will go hungry and the already high malnutrition rates will continue to climb, according to agency.
In another incident on Tuesday, the WFP-chartered Liberty Sun came under attack from pirates, armed with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons, who managed to escape before United States naval assistance could arrive.
The Liberty Sun had unloaded WFP food assistance in Port Sudan, on the Red Sea, before it was attacked en route to Mombasa, loaded with 27,000 tons of WFP maize meal, corn soya blend, wheat flour, yellow peas and lentils.
As 90 per cent of WFP food aid for Somalia arrives by sea, piracy has long been a concern for WFP, which saw three of its ships hijacked or attacked in 2007.
Some 300 hostages and 17 vessels are currently held by a small group who are only interested in maximizing their illegal profits, Special Representative of Secretary-General for Somalia Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah said on Tuesday.