WFP confirmed today that the hijackers of a WFP-chartered ship seized three months ago had broken an agreement to release the vessel, its 10-man crew and cargo of food aid and returned it to their base off central Somalia along with its 10-man crew and cargo of food aid.
“I’m deeply worried for the crew and their families who have been waiting more than 90 days for this ordeal to be over,” said James Morris, WFP Executive Director.
“Besides being a violation of international law, it’s especially shameful as this food was intended to assist the victims of the tsunami.”
WFP food is not for sale
WFP advertisement in Somali newspapers
WFP said that residents of the coastal town of Harardhere reported that the Kenyan-owned MV Semlow with the hijackers aboard had sailed back to a position at sea some 50 kilometres off Harardhere from the port of El Maan just north of the Somali capital of Mogadishu.
Residents say the Semlow is anchored close to another vessel, which they believe was hijacked last week near El Maan by the same group of gunmen who seized the Semlow en route to northern Somalia on 27 June.
The second ship is apparently loaded with cement from Egypt.
WFP strongly condemned the reneging on the agreement to release the Semlow, its crew and cargo, and is placing advertisements today in Somali newspapers warning: “WFP food is not for sale” -- in case the hijackers try to sell the 850 metric tons of rice aboard the ship donated by Japan and Germany.
The notice warns that WFP reserves its rights under international law against anyone buying or selling any of the humanitarian relief food.
“WFP demands the unconditional release of the vessel, its crew and its cargo. The crew members have suffered long enough and the humanitarian cargo has unlawfully been denied to the people who need it,” said the advertisement.
“WFP calls upon community leaders, politicians and members of civil society in Harardhere and Adado, where most of the pirates come from, to intervene to end this ordeal peacefully, and no longer to stand passively by,” it added.
The Semlow left El Maan on 22 September after the hijackers failed to comply with an agreement with Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government and community leaders to release the ship, its 10-man crew of eight Kenyans, a Tanzanian engineer and a Sri Lankan captain, and the cargo.
The Semlow had arrived in El Maan on 19 September. After negotiations with representatives of the TFG and the El Maan Port Authority, an agreement to end the crisis was announced. But the hijackers issued fresh ransom demands so the Port Authority served them with an ultimatum to leave the vessel and allow off-loading of the cargo on 22 September.
The deadline, however, passed without response from the hijackers and the ship then left El Maan.
Gunmen seized the St Vincent and Grenadines-registered Semlow off Harardhere, 300 km northeast of Mogadishu, while it was transporting WFP food aid for 28,000 Somalis in the Puntland region whose lives were devastated by last December’s tsunami. WFP has since replaced this food with another shipment.
On 5 August, community leaders, TFG representatives of the TFG and WFP reached an agreement to allow the release of the ship. Under the pact, elders and community leaders on behalf of the hijackers agreed to release the Semlow and allow it to sail to El Maan. The food was to be handed over to the TFG and the crew and vessel allowed to travel on to Mombasa.
This is the first time in WFP’s history that a ship carrying relief food has been hijacked. The hijackers initially demanded US$500,000 from the Semlow’s agents in Mombasa and have made various demands for money since then. WFP does not pay ransom for the return of its food aid.
After initially suspending shipments to Somalia for security concerns, WFP resumed food deliveries to ensure that its operations continue.
WFP aims to provide one million people in Somalia with food in 2005. These include 50,000 people in the central regions of Galgadud and South Mudug – including Harardhere – as well as to the tsunami survivors in Puntland.