The release of the hijacked MV Miltzow – after being held for 32 hours – was welcomed today by WFP, which can now proceed with delivering the cargo of relief food to 78,000 drought-stricken people in southern Somalia.
“We are very relieved that the crew are all unharmed and that the food aid is intact,” said Leo van der Velden, WFP Deputy Country Director, Somalia.
“Fortunately this particular shipment is only slightly delayed, but with two hijackings in three months we will have to consider alternatives to secure the safety of both the people and food involved in our operations.”
The ship, its crew and cargo were released at midnight yesterday, after a representative of the contractor together with the District Commissioner of Brava, Mr Abdullahi Halane Dhuhulow, boarded the ship to negotiate its release.
The pirates are no longer on board and the MV Miltzow arrived back at the port of Merka this morning to complete offloading of the cargo – probably today.
The 10-member crew – a Kenyan captain, a Ugandan engineer and eight Kenyan crew members – are all safe.
On Wednesday afternoon, 12 October, up to six unidentified gunmen stormed the St Vincent and Grenadines-registered MV Miltzow and forced it to leave the port of Merka, 100 km southwest of Mogadishu.
The ship and crew were held hostage on the high seas off the coastal town of Brava for nearly 32 hours.
At the time of the hijacking, about half the total 850 tons of WFP food aid remained on board. The cargo – 703 tons of maize, 108 tons of beans and 39 tons of vegetable oil – is destined for the Lower Juba Valley, home to some of the most vulnerable people in Somalia, who have repeatedly been affected by droughts, floods and civil strife.
It is the second time a WFP food aid vessel has been hijacked; in June, the WFP-chartered MV Semlow, carrying 850 tons of rice for 28,000 tsunami survivors in the Puntland region, was seized by gunmen off the coast of central Somalia and held for three months. It was released to the El Maan Port Authorities on 4 October, but has yet to be offloaded.
WFP has repeatedly called for the food to be discharged by its regular contractor for distribution in the Central Regions of Somalia, but until now, the Port Authorities have not cooperated.
The MV Miltzow, like the MV Semlow, is owned by the Motaku Shipping Agencies based in Mombasa, Kenya. WFP’s contractor, the Al-Towfiq General Trading Company of Mogadishu, chartered the ship directly to deliver the food aid from Mombasa to Merka, from where it is to be distributed to some 78,000 people.
After initially suspending shipments to Somalia amid security concerns in early July, WFP resumed food deliveries to ensure that its operations continue.
In view of insecurity off the coast of Somalia, WFP is looking at various alternative routes including overland from Kenya and through Djibouti. Shipping companies are currently demanding armed escorts.
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.