NAIROBI, 28 Jul 2005 (IRIN) - The men who hijacked a Kenyan-registered vessel laden with food aid off the northeastern coast of Somalia over a month ago have agreed to release some of the crew, sources said on Thursday.
A spokesman for those holding the vessel said the eight Kenyan crewmembers would be freed soon, following the intervention of Kenya's ambassador to Somalia, Muhammad Abdi Afey.
"We have spoken to the ambassador and we will release the Kenyans," Muhammad Abdi Afweyne, the hijackers?spokesman, told IRIN by phone.
He added that the Sri-Lankan captain and a Tanzanian crewmember would, however, remain on the ship.
A humanitarian source said: "Local [Somali] leaders were asked to intervene but had failed to secure the release of the ship and its crew."
The MV Semlow was hijacked on 27 June between Haradhere and Hobyo, some 400 km northeast of the capital, Mogadishu, on its way to the Gulf of Aden port of Bossaso, in the self-declared autonomous region of Puntland.
The vessel had been chartered by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) to deliver some 850 tonnes of rice to survivors of the 26 December Indian Ocean tsunami, which devastated much of the country? northeastern coastline.
The captors said they took the ship by mistake.
"We were looking for ships that were fishing illegally in our waters and others that were dumping waste, but came upon this ship," Afweyne said.
Afweyne claimed that the area [South Mudug, in central Somalia] had been "neglected" by aid agencies, "even though it was affected by the tsunami".
He added that many fishermen had lost their livelihoods "but no one has come to their aid".
However, between April and May alone, WFP delivered 1,950 tonnes of food to the region and distributed it within the areas of Haradhere and Hobyo.
Following the hijacking, WFP has temporarily suspended all shipments of humanitarian assistance to Somalia.
Afweyne denied that the hijackers had demanded a ransom in return for the release of the ship and its crew.
"We have not asked for any ransom," he said. "All we are asking for is to be treated like the rest of Somalia and not be discriminated against and for agencies to come."
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