New pirate attack on aid ship: WFP urges high-level international action against Somali piracy

MERKA, Somalia - The United Nations World Food Programme today appealed for high-level international action to stamp out piracy in waters off Somalia, warning that the flow of relief supplies to the country was under severe threat.

The appeal followed the killing of a Somali guard who helped repulse a new pirate attack yesterday on a ship that had just delivered WFP food assistance to the Somali port of Merka. Consequently, the agents of a WFP-contracted vessel this morning refused to allow the ship loaded with food to sail for Somalia.

"We urge key nations to do their utmost to address this plague of piracy, which is now threatening our ability to feed one million Somalis," said WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran from the agency's Rome headquarters.

"This attack underscores the growing problem of piracy off Somalia which, if unresolved, will sever the main artery of food assistance to the country - and to the people who rely on it for their survival. Unless action is taken now, not only will our supply lines be cut, but also those of other aid agencies working in various parts of Somalia," said Sheeran.

Shipping is the main and fastest route WFP uses to move large amounts of WFP food to Somalia.

Despite major operational and security challenges, WFP continues to deliver food to thousands of vulnerable Somalis. Last Friday, WFP began a new round of distributions to a total of 122,500 people forced to flee fighting in Mogadishu. Distributions are continuing in the Somali capital as well as in Baidoa to the northwest, Afgoye west of the capital, Brava town and Qoryoley district southwest of the capital.

In this latest of a series of pirate attacks, the Jordanian-registered MV Victoria sent out a distress call when it came under attack yesterday from pirates aboard boats about 60 nautical miles from Merka, south of Mogadishu, en route to the Tanzanian port of Dar es Salaam after discharging 4,000 metric tons of WFP food.

The owner relayed the message to the Merka agent of the Somali contractor who chartered the Victoria to carry WFP food. He sent out guards in two boats who intercepted the pirates before they could board the ship. One guard was wounded in an exchange of fire and later died in Merka hospital. The Victoria returned to Merka port after the attempted hijacking.

"WFP is very saddened and alarmed by the death of the guard, who showed great courage while the ship came under attack. We send our sincere condolences to his family," said Sheeran.

Pirates have hijacked at least five ships off Somalia this year, including two in the past week. Several unsuccessful attacks have also been recently reported. In 2005, a similar upsurge of piracy in Somali waters, including the hijacking of two WFP-chartered vessels, forced the UN agency to suspend all deliveries of WFP food assistance by sea to Somalia for weeks.

The United Nations estimates that between 300,000 and 400,000 people fled Mogadishu since 1 February. The International Committee of the Red Cross and the non-governmental organisation CARE are also feeding substantial numbers of displaced people from Mogadishu.

In addition to the people displaced from Mogadishu, WFP aims to feed 850,000 people in other parts of Somalia during 2007.

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: on average, each year, we give food to 90 million poor people to meet their nutritional needs, including 58 million hungry children, in 80 of the world's poorest countries. WFP - We Feed People.

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Peter Smerdon, WFP/Nairobi, Tel +254-20-7622179, Cell +254-733-528-911

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Gregory Barrow, WFP/London, Tel.. +44-20-72409001, Cell. +44-7968-008474

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Jennifer Parmelee, WFP/Washington, Tel. +1-202-6530010 ext. 1149, Cell. +1-202-4223383

Bettina Luescher, WFP/New York, Tel. +1-212-9635196, Cell. +1-646-8241112,