Largely Forgotten Somali Hijacking Now Enters Day 54

Published on 19 August 2005

The hostages are not Italian, French or American; there are no discussions of the hijackers asking for millions of dollars to set them free. As it drags through its eighth week, the story of the 10-man crew aboard the MV Semlow off Somalia, who were simply trying to bring food aid to a hungry nation, only sometimes makes headlines in their home countries.

The United Nations World Food Programme, which chartered the Semlow, has heard from the ship’s agents that while food supplies for the crew were adequate, drinking water was rationed. Conditions for the crew, confined to the ship and held under duress, are undoubtedly difficult.

“It must be a terrible, and a very worrying ordeal for all 10 of them stuck on that ship still anchored 45 kilometres from the Somali coast,” said WFP Somalia Country Director Robert Hauser. “The poor families of the crew have waited too long to see their loved ones safe.”

This is the first time in WFP history that a ship carrying relief food has been hijacked. Gunmen aboard speedboats seized the St. Vincent and the Grenadines-registered Semlow on 27 June between Harardhere and Hobyo, 300 kilometres northeast of Mogadishu and 60 kilometres off the coast.

Contrary to some media reports quoting local residents, WFP said today that it understood the cargo of food aid aboard the Semlow at sea off the town of Harardhere in central Somalia was still largely intact and was not being unloaded by the hijackers using small boats.

“Our contacts in the region assure us that the vast bulk of the 850 metric tons of rice aboard the Semlow has not been taken ashore or removed from the ship,” said Hauser. “We once again call for the immediate, unconditional release of the Semlow, its crew and the cargo of food.”

“The rice was generously donated by Germany and Japan and was to feed 27,000 survivors of the tsunami in Somalia and should still go to the people who need it most,” Hauser added.

Hauser appealed to Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) to press the hijackers for the release of the Semlow, its crew – eight Kenyans, a Tanzanian engineer and a Sri Lankan captain – and the cargo. “We urge the TFG to help end this problem peacefully,” he said. “This has gone on too long.”

WFP aims to provide 1 million people in Somalia with food in 2005. They include 50,000 people in the central regions of Galgadud and South Mudug, which includes Harardhere.

WFP reached an agreement on 5 August with community leaders on behalf of the hijackers and the TFG to allow for the release of the Semlow, its cargo and crew within three days. But the hijackers failed to implement the pact and the Semlow remained at Harardhere, which has no port.

Under the pact, the elders and community leaders on behalf of the hijackers agreed to release the ship and allow it to sail to the port of El Maan just north of Mogadishu within three days. The WFP food was to be handed over to the TFG in El Maan to be distributed to communities in central Somalia.

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: each year, we give food to an average of 90 million poor people to meet their nutritional needs, including 56 million hungry children, in at least 80 of the world's poorest countries. WFP -- We Feed People.

WFP Global School Feeding Campaign – For just 19 US cents a day, you can help WFP give children in poor countries a healthy meal at school – a gift of hope for a brighter future.

For more information please contact (email address: firstname.lastname@wfp.org):

Said Warsame

WFP Somalia/Nairobi
Mob +254 735 337 723

Peter Smerdon

WFP Regional Information Officer/Nairobi
Mob. +254 733 528911

Rene McGuffin

WFP Regional Information Officer/Nairobi
Mob. +254 735 333318