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WFP demands release of hijacked ship in Somalia
www.chinaview.cn 2005-07-14 03:23:33

    NAIROBI, July 13 (Xinhuanet) -- The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) Wednesday warned it will stop shipments to central Somalia for a decade if the pirates who hijacked a vessel chartered to transport food aid fail to release it by Friday.

    WFP country director for Somalia Robert Houser also appealed tointerim Somali authorities to redouble their efforts to get the ship released.

    "If the food is not released within 48 hours, together with theship and the crew, we will blacklist the area of Haradheere and Hobyo for the next 10 years," Hauser said by telephone.

    WFP which has halted all aid shipments to the Horn of Africa nation said the MV Semlow was taking aid to victims of the last December's Indian Ocean tsunami and was sailing from the Kenyan port of Mombasa to Bossaso in northeastern Somalia.

    The UN agency said it was against international law for anybodyto detain relief food but it insisted that operations in Somalia, affected by the December tsunamis would stall for a while.

    "If they release the ship unconditionally and immediately -- then we will continue food supplies into their area as normal," Hauser stressed.

    He denied claims by the Kenyan government that the WFP was delaying the release of the ship and its crew by refusing to talk to the hijackers whom the Kenyan authorities said are seeking audience with the UN.

    The WFP country director said the agency was doing its best to secure their release, and lauded efforts by the east African nation in resolving the matter.

    "The problem is that the hijackers are changing their story every day and it is very difficult to know what they actually want," he said.

    The hijackers initially asked for 500,000 US dollars but the Kenyan authorities maintained that they would not pay the ransom.

    Hauser said the sea had become tumultuous and there was a real risk of the vessel being thrown to the shore by the waves and the crew also risked running out of fresh water and food.

    He said bad weather was bringing high winds and rough seas to Somalia's northeast coast.

    The MV Semlow was seized on June 27 in seas between the areas of Haradheere and Hobyo, some 300 km northeast of the capital Mogadishu, as it sailed from the Kenyan port of Mombasa.

    It was carrying 850 tons of rice for distribution to the survivors of the tsunami and a crew comprising of eight Kenyans, aTanzanian and their Sri Lankan captain, who are all reported to besafe.

    Some 28,000 people who lost their homes and livelihoods when the tsunami struck on December 26 are being fed by the UN.

    Somalia is awash with some 60,000 militia men and has been without a functioning national government since 1991, which hampered relief efforts to tsunami victims.

    Earlier last month, the International Maritime Board warned of a surge in piracy in the region and advised vessels to stay at least 85 km away from the lawless coast if possible.

    The WFP hijacking was the sixth reported piracy incident in Somali waters since March. Enditem


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