Hijackers break agreement to release Kenya ship

Published on 23 September 2005

WFP today declared null and void all agreements with Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and community leaders to end the hijack of a Kenyan-owned vessel off the coast of Somalia.

WFP today declared null and void all agreements with Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and community leaders to end the hijack of a Kenyan-owned vessel off the coast of Somalia.

Yesterday the hijackers failed to comply with a deal to end the three month saga and release the ship, its 10-man crew and 850-ton humanitarian cargo of rice.

The WFP-chartered vessel, the MV Semlow, which was seized by pirates on 27 June, had anchored at the port of 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 on Tuesday evening.

Ultimatum

The following day, however, the hijackers issued fresh ransom demands, whereupon the Port Authority served them with an ultimatum to leave the vessel and allow off-loading of the cargo by 1 p.m. on Thursday. The deadline passed without response from the hijackers and the ship left El Maan, heading in the direction of Mogadishu, some 30 km to the south.

“It is now clear that the hijackers are not demonstrating any meaningful actions towards finding the necessary resolution of this problem,” said Leo van der Velden, WFP Somalia Deputy Country Director.

“In the light of their failure to comply with the deal reached this week and the earlier agreement to end the crisis on 5 August, we have no choice but to declare that from our standpoint, the agreements reached so far are null and void.”

Unconditional release

This is humanitarian relief food which is not for sale under any circumstances.

Leo van der Velden, WFP Somalia Deputy Country Director

“WFP demands the unconditional release of the vessel, its crew and cargo. The crew members have suffered long enough and the humanitarian cargo has unlawfully been denied to the people who need it."

We call upon the community leaders, politicians and members of civil society in Harardhere, where most of the pirates come from, to intervene to end this ordeal peacefully, and no longer to stand passively by.”

WFP also issued a warning to the hijackers not to loot the cargo.

“This is humanitarian relief food which is not for sale under any circumstances. Anyone involved in the buying or selling of this food would be committing a criminal act,” van der Velden said.

Seized

Gunmen seized the St Vincent and Grenadines-registered Semlow off Harardhere, some 300 km northeast of Mogadishu, while it was carrying rice donated by Germany and Japan to assist 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 and representatives of the TFG along with WFP reached an agreement to allow the release of the hijacked ship. Under the pact, the elders and community leaders on behalf of the hijackers had agreed to release the ship and allow it to sail to the port of El Maan.

The food was to be handed over to the Transitional Federal Government and the crew and vessel allowed to travel on to Mombasa.

First time

This is the first time in WFP history that a ship carrying relief food has been hijacked.

After having to initially suspend its shipments to the country for security concerns, WFP has in the last month resumed food deliveries to the country to ensure that its operations there 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.