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Somalia: WFP welcomes return of hijacked ship and release of food aid cargo

WFP today welcomed the safe arrival of a WFP-chartered ship and its crew at the Somali port of El Maan on the 100th day since it was hijacked by pirates, and urged the authorities to ensure the 850 tons of food aid on board are discharged quickly and smoothly into WFP’s custody.

“We are tremendously relieved to see the end of the 100-day ordeal for the crew of the Semlow and hope that they will soon be reunited with their families. This was the first time in WFP history that a ship carrying food aid was hijacked. But at least, for the crew, their ordeal is over,” said WFP Somalia Country Director Robert Hauser.

Food to be distributed

WFP is in contact with various representatives on the ground to ensure that arrangements are made for the food to be distributed to those most in need.

We are urging representatives from both the Somali TFG and the Port Authorities to work with WFP to ensure that food aid is distributed to the needy in Somalia
WFP's Robert Hauser
The MV Semlow was expected within the coming days to complete the unloading of the entire cargo of rice donated by Germany and Japan for 28,000 survivors of last December’s tsunami in the northern Somali region of Puntland.

Almost all of the 850 tons of rice is believed to still be aboard the ship. WFP is requesting its regularly-contracted transporter in El Maan to discharge the food and store it in its warehouse until a distribution plan is provided.

“We are urging representatives from both the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the Port Authorities to work with WFP to ensure that food aid is properly handled and distributed to the needy in Somalia,” said Hauser.

Speedboats

The Semlow, which was seized on 27 June and ran out of fuel while it was hijacked, was towed into El Maan by a second ship that was hijacked two weeks ago by the same group of armed men aboard speedboats.

The gunmen held both ships off the central Somali coastal town of Harardhere and slipped off both vessels on Sunday as they were en route to El-Maan.

The crew consists of a Sri Lankan captain, a Tanzanian engineer and eight Kenyans. They received medical checkups on shore at El Maan, which is just north of the capital Mogadishu.

Home port

After unloading, the Kenyan-owned Semlow is expected to return to its home port of Mombasa.

The captain said the crew had run out of fresh drinking water in captivity and were overjoyed to talk to their families at long last by telephone from El Maan.

Reneged

The hijackers released the two ships just over two weeks after they had reneged on an agreement between community leaders speaking on behalf of the pirates, WFP and Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government for the unconditional release of the Semlow, its cargo and crew in El Maan.

The pirates made new ransom demands and sailed back to Harardhere.

Gunmen seized the St Vincent and Grenadines-registered Semlow off Harardhere, 300 kilomtres northeast of Mogadishu. WFP has since replaced its cargo with another shipment for the tsunami victims.

Pact

On 5 August, community leaders, TFG representatives and WFP originally reached an agreement to allow the release of the ship.

Under the pact, elders and community leaders on behalf of the hijackers agreed to release the Semlow and allow it to sail to El Maan. The food was to be handed over to the TFG and the crew and vessel allowed to travel on to Mombasa.

The hijackers initially demanded US$500,000 from the Semlow’s agents in Mombasa and had made various demands for money since then. WFP is not aware of any ransom paid.

Operations continue

After initially suspending shipments to Somalia for security concerns, WFP resumed food deliveries to ensure that its operations continue.

WFP aims to provide one million people in Somalia with food in 2005. These include 50,000 people in the central regions of Galgadud and South Mudug – including Harardhere – as well as to the tsunami survivors in Puntland.