WFP today strongly condemned the hijacking of a food aid ship Wednesday afternoon by unidentified gunmen at the port of Merka, 100 kilometres southwest of Mogadishu.
The ship, the St Vincent and Grenadines-registered MV Miltzow, was in the process of being offloaded, when, at approximately 1530 local time, six gunmen stormed the ship and forced it to leave the port.
An estimated 400 tons of the total cargo of 850 tons of WFP food aid remained on board at the time of the hijacking.
“It is scandalous that a small number of profiteers would once again hijack humanitarian food supplies destined for fellow Somalis,” said WFP Country Director Robert Hauser.
“The cargo – consisting of 703 tons of maize, 108 tons of beans and 39 tons of vegetable oil – was destined for the Lower Juba Valley, which is home to some of the most vulnerable people in Somalia, people who have repeatedly been affected by droughts and floods.”
This is the second time a WFP food aid vessel has been hijacked. In June, the WFP-chartered MV Semlow, carrying 850 metric tons of rice for 28,000 tsunami survivors in the Puntland region, was stormed by gunmen off the coast of central Somalia and held for three months.
It was released to the El Maan Port Authorities on the 4 October.
The MV Miltzow, like the MV Semlow, is owned by the Motaku Shipping Agencies based in Mombasa, Kenya.
WFP’s contractor, the Al-Towfiq General Trading Company of Mogadishu, had chartered the ship directly to deliver the food aid from Mombasa to Merka, from where it was to be distributed to some 78,000 people.
The aid is part of WFP’s ongoing free emergency distribution in Jilib district, an area affected by civil strife, floods and, recently, complete failure of the seasonal rains and harvest. The MV Miltzow arrived in the port of Merka on 10 October, after leaving Mombasa on 7 October.
The ten-member crew on board include a Kenyan captain, a Ugandan engineer and eight Kenyan crew members.
Yusuf Indha Adde, the governor of the Lower Shabelle Region, immediately sent two small boats to pursue the vessel but no further details are available.
The 850 metric tons of rice on the MV Semlow has yet to be offloaded at the Port of El Maan where the ship is anchored with the crew still onboard.
WFP has repeatedly called for the food to be discharged by its regular contractor for distribution in the Central Regions of Somalia, but until now, the Port Authorities have not cooperated.
After initially suspending shipments to Somalia for security concerns in early July, WFP resumed food deliveries to ensure that its operations continue.
Given the continued insecurity off the coast of Somalia, WFP is looking at various alternative routes including overland from Kenya and through Djibouti. Shipping companies are currently demanding armed escorts.
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.