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Hijacked UN food ship still held off Somali coast

Hijacked UN food ship still held off Somali coast despite pact for its release

Hijackers off the Somali coast are still holding a ship chartered by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), its 10-member crew, and 850 tons of rice for victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami, more than seven weeks after seizing them, despite an agreement earlier this month for their release, the agency said today.

“This has gone on too long,” WFP Country Director Robert Hauser said, urging Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) to help end the problem peacefully.

This is the first time in WFP history that a ship carrying relief food has been hijacked. Gunmen aboard speedboats seized the St. Vincent and the Grenadines-registered MV Semlow on 27 June between Harardhere and Hobyo, 300 kilometres north-east of Mogadishu, the Somali capital, and 60 kilometres off the coast.

On 5 August WFP reached an agreement with community leaders on behalf of the hijackers, and the TFG for its release, but the hijackers failed to implement the pact and the Semlow remained at Harardhere, which has no port.

Under the pact, the hijackers were to release the ship and allow it to sail to the port of El Maan just north of Mogadishu within three days. The WFP food was to be handed over to the TFG in El Maan to be distributed to communities in central Somalia.

The rice, donated by Germany and Japan, was intended to feed 27,000 survivors of last December’s tsunami and should still go to the people who need it most, Mr. Hauser said.

“It must be a terrible, and a very worrying ordeal for all 10 of them stuck on that ship still anchored 45 kilometres from the Somali coast,” he added. “The poor families of the crew have waited too long to see their loved ones safe.”

WFP aims to provide 1 million people in Somalia with food in 2005. They include 50,000 people in the central regions of Galgadud and South Mudug, which includes Harardhere.

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