Somalia: Pirates attack UN aid ship, prompting call for action

News and Press Release
Originally published
Following a deadly attack on an aid ship in the waters off Somalia, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today appealed for international action against piracy, warning that it is seriously threatening relief deliveries to the country.

"We urge key nations to do their utmost to address this plague of piracy, which is now threatening our ability to feed 1 million Somalis," said WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran from the agency's Rome headquarters.

On Saturday, a Somali guard was killed when he helped repulse a new pirate attack on a ship that had just delivered WFP food assistance to the Somali port of Merka. As a result, the agents of a WFP-contracted vessel this morning refused to allow the ship loaded with food to sail for Somalia.

"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," she warned.

Shipping is the main and fastest route WFP uses to move large amounts of food to Somalia. Despite the challenges, the agency recently began a new round of food distributions to 122,500 people forced to flee fighting in Mogadishu.

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," Ms. Sheeran said, offering condolences to the victim's family.

Pirates have hijacked at least five ships off Somalia this year. The UN estimates that since February between 300,000 and 400,000 people fled Mogadishu, where fighting has flared between the Ethiopian-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and anti-TFG forces.

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