Hijacking of relief food vessel to Somalia forces WFP to suspend further shipments

NAIROBI - The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today suspended all shipments of humanitarian assistance to Somalia in the wake of the hijacking of a WFP-chartered vessel carrying food aid for 28,000 tsunami survivors.
The decision was taken because of the insecurity of Somali waters along the east coast. It will be reviewed depending on the release of the detained relief food, vessel and crew.

The St. Vincent and the Grenadines-registered MV Semlow was hijacked on 27 June between Haradheere and Hobyo, some 300 kilometres northeast of the capital Mogadishu. At the time the vessel was some 60 kilometres off the coast. WFP chartered the ship from Motaku Shipping Agency in Mombasa, Kenya. The crew includes a Sri Lankan captain, a Tanzanian engineer and eight Kenyan crew members.

This is the first time in WFP's history that a ship carrying relief food has been hijacked.

WFP assists some 275,000 Somalis with 3,000 metric tons of food each month. The agency currently has approximately two weeks' worth of food stocks in-country.

"If there is a quick, favourable solution, we hope there will be no major interruption of WFP operations in the country," said WFP Somalia Country Director, Robert Hauser.

"The 10 crew members are reported to be in good health and we remain hopeful that the humanitarian cargo on the MV Semlow will be allowed to continue its journey to Bossaso in the northeast of the country unconditionally. But for now, the waters off the Somali coast present too great a threat to send further shipments," Hauser added.

WFP has been in regular contact with community elders, local authorities, and influential leaders requesting their assistance in securing the release of the cargo. A Transitional Federal Government mission travelled today to Harardheere District to facilitate the release of the WFP food aid, the vessel and the crew. The head of this mission, Hirsi Aden Roble, the Vice-Minister of Ministry of Marine Transport, was joined by the State Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ibrahim Jeebe, and two other influential elders from the community.

WFP regularly transports humanitarian cargo from Mombasa to various destinations in Somalia. Since January, WFP has dispatched a total of 22,000 tons of relief food from Mombasa to Somalia. Between April and May, some 2,000 tons of WFP relief food was distributed in Harardheere and other nearby districts in the regions of Galgadud and South Mudug through WFP's implementing partner, CARE International.

The MV Semlow left the Port of Mombasa on 23 June destined for Bossaso in Puntland region, carrying 850 tons of rice donated by Japan and Germany to WFP's tsunami emergency response programme. WFP is assisting some 28,000 Somalis whose lives were devastated by the December tsunami. This food would have fed these victims for two months.

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: each year, we give food to an average of 90 million poor people to meet their nutritional needs, including 56 million hungry children, in at least 80 of the world's poorest countries. WFP -- We Feed People.

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For more information please contact (email address:

Rene McGuffin, WFP Regional Information Officer/Nairobi, Tel +254 (0) 735 333 318

Said Warsame, WFP Somalia Country Office/Nairobi, Tel +254 (0) 735 337 723

Brenda Barton, Deputy Director Communications, WFP/Rome, Tel. +39-06-65132602, Mob. +39-3472582217

Christiane Berthiaume, WFP/Geneva, Tel. +41-22-9178564, Mob. +41-792857304

Trevor Rowe, WFP/New York, Tel. +1-212-9635196, Mob. +1-6468241112,

Gregory Barrow, WFP/London, Tel. +44-20-75929292, Mob. +44-7968-008474