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Pirates seize UN food relief boat off Somali coast

Pirates have seized a boat off the coast of Somalia carrying United Nations food relief for some 28,000 victims of last December's Indian Ocean tsunami and are asking for $500,000 to release it, the UN World Food Programme said today.

The boat, the MV Semlow, with 10 crew members and 850 tons of rice on board, was seized on Monday between Haradhere and Hobyo, nearly 300 kilometres northeast of the Somali capital of Mogadishu, as it was on its way from the Kenyan port of Mombasa to Bossao in the Puntland region of Somalia.

"The WFP has appealed to local authorities to help them impress upon the 'pirates' that the food was intended for humanitarian purposes," WFP spokeswoman Christine Berthiaume told a briefing in Geneva. The company hiring the boat indicated that the 'pirates' were asking for a $500,000 ransom.

The boat, which was seized 60 kilometres off the coast, was now about five kilometres from shore, she added.

Somalia has been rent by factional fighting for almost 15 years.

In another African operation, Ms. Berthiaume said that since April 2004 WFP has only been able to distribute 50 per cent of the corn rations intended for thousands of Angolan refugees and displaced persons (IDPs).

In July the agency will only be able to assist 800,000 people, compared to 1 million in June. WFP needs $17 million to feed this population through the end of the year and without new contributions it will have to make additional cuts in rations, she said.