As the hijacking of a WFP-chartered vessel off the coast of Somalia entered its tenth day, WFP urged for a swift end to the impasse, citing concerns for the welfare of the crew, as well as increasing difficulties in contracting additional ships to deliver urgent food aid to hungry people.
It’s vital that this situation is fully resolved quickly, and that all groups respect humanitarian access and delivery corridors in Somalia
WFP Country Director Peter Goossens
With 12 crew members aboard, the MV Rozen was captured by pirates off the northeast coast of Somalia on Sunday, 25 February, as it returned empty to Mombasa after completing a contract delivery of WFP food aid to Bossaso and Berbera.
Six hijackers remain in control of the vessel, now anchored off Gara’ad close to the border of Puntland and the central region of Somalia.
None of the crew has been released, despite appeals and interventions for their immediate safe return. WFP is in close contact with Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG), the Puntland authorities and with the vessel’s agents.
“It’s vital that the crew and the vessel are released -- safely and immediately,” said WFP Country Director Peter Goossens.
“With every day that goes on, the ordeal becomes so much worse for the crew and their families -- we need to get them home safe. The incident is also having a very negative impact on our ability to contract commercial ships to deliver food to vulnerable families in Somalia,” he said.
Threatens food delivery
WFP already has 2,423 metric tons of food aid waiting at port in Tanzania, and despite calling for shipping contracts a week ago, there has been no expression of interest. Usually competitive bids are received within days.
“This is a direct result of the hijacking, and it threatens our ability to get food into Somalia ahead of the upcoming rainy season. It’s vital that this situation is fully resolved quickly, and that all groups respect humanitarian access and delivery corridors in Somalia,” Goossens said.
The next rains are expected to start in mid April. Even light rainfall is enough to close down key sections of the dilapidated road network that has seen little or no repair work since the fall of the Siad Barre government in 1991.
Food stocks need to be moved to strategic locations well in advance.
WFP has more than 14,000 metric tons of food within Somalia, enough for immediate needs, but supplies must be continually replenished.
While a vessel can carry thousands of tons in a single voyage, the largest trucks with trailers moving through Somalia can take only 30 metric tons each, and many carry less.
Hijacking and holdups
While WFP uses road transport convoys to move food across the border from Kenya into nearby regions, moving large amounts of cargo the length of the country is up to 40 per cent more expensive and is slower.
They can also be dangerous -- WFP contracted truck convoys are vulnerable to hijacking and holdups at impromptu checkpoints mounted by local militias and armed groups.
In 2005, a spate of piracy in Somali waters forced WFP to suspend deliveries of food aid by sea for some weeks.
Since then, sea deliveries have been uninterrupted even during the worst days of the conflict between the TFG and the Union of Islamic Courts (ICU) at the end of last year.
Somalia is one of the poorest countries in the world, and malnutrition rates among children under five are consistently high.
In some areas, one child in five is malnourished. Although there is insufficient data for the country to be listed in the United Nations Development Programme Human Development Report rankings, the average life expectancy is just 46 years.
In 2006, WFP delivered some 78,000 metric tonnes of relief food to 1.4 million people who have been affected by a drought and floods in southern Somalia.