WFP has thanked France for its proposal to provide naval escorts to protect ships carrying food off the Horn of Africa from pirate attacks.
“We are grateful to the Government of France for this generous offer, which would reduce the threat of piracy and allow WFP to feed more hungry people in Somalia,” said WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran at UN headquarters in New York.
Sheeran also thanked the multinational coalition naval force off Somalia for its increased surveillance in recent months and said she hoped it will continue.
WFP and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) have jointly appealed for high-level international action to stamp out piracy in waters off Somalia, following a series of attacks including on two vessels that had just unloaded WFP food in Somalia.
In 2005, an upsurge of piracy in Somali waters, including the hijacking of two ships contracted for WFP, forced the UN agency to suspend all deliveries by sea for some weeks.
Some 80 percent of WFP food assistance for Somalia moves by sea, and pirate attacks have threatened to cut WFP’s main supply route, jeopardizing rations for the 1.2 million people WFP expects to be feeding by the end of 2007.
Overall, there were 17 pirate attacks on ships in waters off Somalia in the first half of 2007, compared with eight attacks in the same period last year.
The French proposal envisions a two-month period during which naval vessels would escort ships carrying WFP food assistance as they traverse Somali waters. Ships would be escorted to the entrance of Mogadishu port.
WFP is increasing its food distributions in Somalia so has to ship more food just as the stormy monsoon season is coming to an end, Sheeran said.
Before the onset of the monsoon last June, increasing pirate attacks had cut by half the number of ships available to transport WFP food supplies.
Without escorts, WFP fears the pirates will return as the heavy monsoon seas calm, allowing them to start hunting for ships again.
Most of the pirate assaults did not appear aimed at seizing cargo but rather designed to force ship owners to pay ransom for vessels and crew held hostage.
The pirates are highly mobile, manning fast vessels and using satellite position-fixing gear to attack ships far out at sea, sometimes more than 200 nautical miles off the Somali coast.