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Martin Penner, a former journalist, has worked for WFP since 2008.
Even though the Maersk Alabama incident is over, two other incidents have underlined the continuing danger to WFP's shipments in the seas off the Horn of Africa.
ROME -- The Togo-flagged ship Sea Horse was hijacked by pirates some 700 kilometres off the Somali coast on Tuesday. It was en route to Mumbai, India, where it was due to load 7,327 metric tons of WFP food for Somalia. WFP is concerned that people in Somalia will go hungry unless the Sea Horse is quickly released or a replacement ship can be found.
In a second incident on Tuesday, the U.S.-owned Liberty Sun was attacked and damaged by pirates with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons. By the time U.S. navy assistance arrived, the pirates had left.
The WFP-chartered Liberty Sun had unloaded food assistance in Port Sudan before it was attacked en route to Mombasa, Kenya, loaded with 27,000 metric tons of food for WFP consisting of maize meal, corn soya blend, wheat flour and yellow peas and lentils.
The European Union currently provides these escorts and the system has worked well. There have been no pirate attacks on ships loaded with WFP food heading to Somalia since the escorts began in November 2007. NATO has also provided escorts in the past.
But the hijacking of the Maersk Alabama marked a new development. The ship, which was carrying aid for several organisations including WFP, was heading for the Kenyan port of Mombasa when it was attacked. Read NYT story It was the first case of a Mombasa-bound ship carrying WFP food being hijacked.
Questions about Mombasa
The incident, along with Tuesday's attack on the Liberty Sun, raises questions about the security of Mombasa as an entry point for WFP aid bound for hunger-stricken countries in east and central Africa.
Mombasa is essential to WFP’s operations in these areas. More than 500,000 metric tons of WFP food arrived in Mombasa in 2008 aboard more than 200 ships for the hungry in the region.
If food assistance cannot arrive through Mombasa for Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, southern Sudan and the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, millions of people will go hungry and the already high malnutrition rates will rise.
Piracy in the seas off Somalia has long been a concern for WFP, which saw three of its ships hijacked or attacked in 2007. Because 90 percent of WFP food aid for Somalia arrives by sea, all our ships sailing to Somali ports now have naval escorts.