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20 April 2009

Somali pirates attacked a Maltese flagged-ship before dawn Monday with rocket-propelled grenades, but the ship escaped unharmed, a NATO spokesman said. And in a rare case of good news, Somali pirates released a Lebanese-owned cargo ship after only a few days after they found out it was headed to pick up food aid for hungry Somalis. [...] U.N. World Food Program spokesman Peter Smerdon said pirates released the Lebanese-owned MV Sea Horse on Friday. He had no more details and it was not known if a ransom was paid. The Togo-flagged ship was hijacked April 14 with 19 crew as it headed to Mumbai, India, to pick up over 7,300 tons of WFP food destined for Somalia. Somali clan elder Abdisalan Khalif Ahmed, speaking to The Associated Press from the Somali pirate haven of Harardhere, said gunmen released the ship after they found out it was supposed to pick up food for their own countrymen. [...] The WFP is feeding 3.5 million Somalis this year, about half the country's people. That requires shipping 43,000 tons of food every month, some 90 percent of which is sent by sea. Flying in food aid is too expensive, and roads in the lawless country are plagued by bandits.


20 April 2009

SOMALI pirates have released a Togo-flagged cargo ship seized last week, a UN aid agency said today, and pirate sources said a ransom was paid. Sea gangs have continued to hijack commercial vessels on the strategic Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean earning millions of dollars in ransoms despite the presence of foreign navies off the coast of Somalia. "We hear from the operator that it was released," said Peter Smerdon, spokesman for the UN World Food Programme (WFP). The MV Sea Horse was on its way to pick up food for the world body when it was hijacked, but it was not under UN charter.


20 April 2009

Millions of people could go hungry as Somali pirates stage increasingly bold attacks on aid ships off the Horn of Africa, the World Food Programme has warned. Experts say there is little aid groups can do to reduce the risk in the short term. But they argue that renewed international attention on Somalia could ease the humanitarian crisis there if it addresses the root causes of why so many young men resort to hijacking ships for a living. [...] "If ships are going to be hit as they are heading to Mombasa, we could see in the coming months millions of people going hungry if food assistance is delayed for extended periods," WFP spokesman Peter Smerdon said. [...] This year, the U.N. food aid agency aims to feed 3.5 million people in Kenya, 3.5 million in Somalia and 970,000 in the Karamoja region of northeastern Uganda, where drought and high food prices have brought widespread hunger. It relies on Mombasa as a key entry point for food supplies for eastern and central Africa. In 2008, more than half a million tonnes of food arrived there on 200 ships. The Maersk Alabama's crew managed to fight off the pirates and sail to Mombasa as planned. Smerdon said the cargo's safe arrival was vital for 315,000 Somali refugees in Kenya whose rations are already being cut because of a shortfall in funding. "You could argue that the most crucial shipping passing off the Somali coast is shipping that is carrying food aid - even if it's destined for Kenya to be repackaged to send to Somalia or other areas," said Roger Middleton, a Somalia expert at London's Chatham House think tank. "I don't think it's particularly more vulnerable than a ship carrying palm oil or spare parts for cars but obviously, if it's hijacked, the consequences for people are more severe."


19 April 2009

Rear Admiral Bob Davidson knows first hand what its like for Canadian sailors pursuing pirates in dangerous waters off Somalia. Speaking Sunday on CTV's Question Period, Davidson -- who last year commanded an international flotilla involved in anti-piracy activities -- said such operations can be frustrating, but that Canadian sailors are "extremely adept" at capturing pirates on the high seas. On Saturday, HMCS Winnipeg helped thwart an attack by Somali pirates on a Norwegian tanker in the Gulf of Aden. Canadian sailors chased down the pirates, boarded their vessel and detained them, before having to release them. [...] Some have suggested NATO forces hunt down the pirates on land. But that -- Davidson insists -- is really not an option. "They're living in their fishing villages with their families. So there would be collateral issues associated with going ashore," he said. "The other issue you've got to remember is that Somalia is a country that is in a terrible state -- famine, the World Food Program supports some 2 million people in the country, there is a war going on in the country, so trying to take action on land is problematic."


19 April 2009

NATO warships and helicopters pursued Somali pirates for seven hours after they attacked a Norwegian tanker, NATO spokesmen said Sunday, and the high-speed chase only ended when warning shots were fired at the pirates' skiff. Seven pirates attempted to attack the Norwegian-flagged MV Front Ardenne late Saturday but fled after crew took evasive maneuvers and alerted warships in the area, said Portuguese Lt. Cmdr. Alexandre Santos Fernandes, aboard a warship in the Gulf of Aden, and Cmdr. Chris Davies, of NATO's maritime headquarters in England. ''How the attack was thwarted is unclear, it appears to have been the actions of the tanker,'' Davies said. Fernandes said no shots were fired at the tanker. Davies said the pirates sailed into the path of the Canadian warship Winnipeg, which was escorting a World Food Program delivery ship through the Gulf of Aden. The American ship USS Halyburton was also in the area and joined the chase.


19 April 2009

Gunmen in central Somalia kidnapped two aid workers believed to be Belgian and Danish on Sunday, a local elder and another relief worker said. Aid workers and journalists have often been kidnapped in the lawless Horn of Africa nation. Earlier this month Somalia ordered all aid agencies working in the country to register with the new government for their own safety. Here are some details of attacks on humanitarian staff: 2008 [...] * Gunmen killed Mohamed Kheire, deputy head of the German charity Bread for the World, on July 11 south of Mogadishu. Gunmen in the capital also killed a Somali man working for ASAL, which works with the U.N. World Food Programme. [...] 2009: * A WFP food monitor was shot dead on Jan. 6 by masked gunmen at a school in the southwestern region of Gedo. * Gunmen killed a WFP staff member on Jan. 8 as the organisation was carrying out food distribution at Daynile.


16 April 2009

The European Union says it is boosting its anti-piracy flotilla off the Somali coast to 11 ships. The EU task force was deployed to waters off the Horn of Africa in December in the bloc's first naval operation. Its main task is to escort cargo ships chartered by the World Food Program to deliver food aid to Somalia for at least the next year. [...] The EU said three Swedish frigates will join the flotilla next month.


16 April 2009

The United Nations warned Wednesday that piracy off Somalia's coast could deprive the country's poorest of much-needed food aid. The World Food Program has managed to deliver a steady flow of relief over the last 18 months, thanks largely to its use of naval escorts for supply boats approaching the Somali capital of Mogadishu, the northeast port of Berbera and Bosaso in Somalia's Puntland. But before those shipments are turned over to the U.N. aid agency, they are often unescorted and vulnerable to attack. [...] "The ship escort system has worked quite well," said Emilia Casella of WFP, which has been using naval escorts since November 2007. "When we've had escorts, we have had not any incidents of piracy on WFP-contracted ships." WFP shipped 260,000 tons of food to millions of Somalis suffering from drought and violence last year, Casella said. But the agency is worried about a cargo ship hijacked Tuesday while heading to Mumbai, India, to pick up 7,327 tons of WFP food for Somalia. The Lebanese-owned MV Sea Horse was not under WFP contract, but would have flown under the agency's flag once the food was loaded, Casella said. "We're very concerned that people in Somalia would go hungry unless the Sea Horse is released," she said.


16 April 2009

Boyah is a pirate. One of the original “Old Boys”, he quietly pursued his trade in the waters of his coastal home town of Eyl, years before it galvanised the world's imagination as Somalia's infamous “pirate haven”. Boyah is dismissive of the recent poseurs, the headline-grabbers who have bathed in the international media spotlight and it shows; he exudes a self-assured superiority. Pirates are easy to spot on the streets of Garowe, the regional capital: their Toyota 4x4s cluster around equally new white-washed mansions on the edge of town. But to approach them, I am warned, is to invite kidnapping or robbery. [...] The tide of piracy -- 2007: With chaos reigning again, piracy returns - this time on an industrial scale. The World Food Program gives one of the earliest warnings, saying that it now fears for food supply ships bringing aid to Somalia


15 April 2009

Somali pirates fired grenades and automatic weapons at an American freighter loaded with food aid but the ship managed to escape the attack and was heading Wednesday to Kenya under U.S. Navy escort, officials said. Despite President Barack Obama's vow to halt their banditry, and the deaths of five pirates in recent French and U.S. hostage rescue missions, brigands seized four vessels and over 75 hostages off the Horn of Africa since Sunday's dramatic rescue of an American freighter captain. [...] The Liberty Sun, with a crew of 20 American mariners, was carrying humanitarian aid to Mombasa. It had set off from Houston and had already delivered thousands of tons of food aid to Sudan. Spokesman Peter Smerdon of the U.N. World Food Program said some of Liberty Sun's food was destined for Somalia. He said the U.N. agency was worried because more food aid was to have been delivered by another cargo ship hijacked by pirates on Tuesday, the Lebanese-owned MV Sea Horse. It was headed to Mumbai, India, to pick up 7,327 tons of WFP food for Somalia.