Somali Pirates Release Hijacked Food Aid Ship

NAIROBI, Kenya, April 9, 2007 (ENS) Calling for action to curb piracy in Somali waters, the world's largest humanitarian food relief agency welcomed the release of a hijacked ship used for carrying food aid which had been intercepted in February off the coast of the Puntland semi-autonomous region in Somalia's northeast.

The UN World Food Programme said this is the third ship it contracted to deliver food that has been hijacked in Somali waters in the past two years.

The MV Rozen and its crew of six Kenyans and six Sri Lankans had completed its contract with the World Food Programme by delivering 1,800 metric tons of food from Mombasa, Kenya to Bossaso in Somalia when it was hijacked on February 25.

"WFP welcomes the release after 40 days of the MV Rozen," said the agency's Somalia Country Director Peter Goossens, thanking elders in Puntland for their mediation efforts in securing the ship's release last week.

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Map of Somalia. Puntland is located on the northeast coast. (Map courtesy CIA World Factbook)
The MV Rozen was released three kilometers (two miles) off the Somali coast near the small seasonal fisherman's settlement of Dhigdhiley in Puntland.

The ship was released on April 2, but news of the ship's release was delayed due to security concerns.

In an initial incident just before its capture, the Rozen was making for Somalia with its cargo of food aid when it came under attack by five heavily armed pirates operating from a small boat. Despite being fired upon, the Rozen managed to out-manoeuvre the pirates and rammed the smaller vessel, before escaping, according to Ports & Ships news service.

"The treat of piracy however is still very much alive in Somali waters," Goossens said. He urged the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia and authorities in Puntland to curtail piracy.

The Rozen was released simultaneously with the Indian-flagged MV Nimatullah, which was carrying more than 725 metric tons of cargo, including cooking oil, secondhand clothing and rice.

A representative of the Seafarers Assistance Program-Kenya said a ransom had been paid for the ships' release but he could not give the amount.

This incident has caused reluctance among shippers to carry cargos to Somalia, creating delays in delivering much-needed food aid to the country, Goossens said.

In June 2005, the MV Semlow, the Rozen's sister vessel, was hijacked while carrying WFP food supplies and held for more than 100 days. Four boatloads of Somali pirates armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades boarded the ship.
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The MV Semlow sailing along the Somali coast (Photo courtesy WFP)
The Semlow with a crew of 10 was on her way from Mombasa to Bossaso with 850 tons of rice for tsunami victims in northeast Somalia. After 100 days in captivity, the Semlow was released on October 3, 2005 at the port of El Maan just north of Mogadishu.

Another ship contracted by WFP, the MV Miltzow, was hijacked in October 2005 as it was unloading food aid at the Somali port of Merca. It was held for 33 hours before being released.

Registered in St. Vincent and Grenadines, the Miltzow was in the process of being offloaded, when six gunmen stormed the ship and forced it to leave Merca.

An estimated 400 tons of the total cargo of 850 tons of WFP food aid remained on board at the time of the hijacking. The food aid was bound for the Lower Juba Valley, home to some of the most vulnerable people in Somalia, people who have repeatedly been affected by droughts and floods.
The vessel owners are asking for armed escort for future voyages into Somali waters with WFP or UN relief commodities. WFP Somalia is looking into the possibilities of alternative transport routes, including overland from Kenya.

There has been a recent increase in attacks and hijackings off the Southern part of Somalia, particularly off Mogadishu, the International Maritime Bureau, IMB, a divison of the International Chamber of Commerce, warned Wednesday.

"The attacks are mainly targeted towards vessels with cargo for Somali ports," the IMB said on its website. "Vessels are advised to steer well clear of Somalian waters at all times and only approach once full clearance to enter the port has been received."

Somalia is gripped by a state of civil war which, since warlords ousted a dictatorship in 1991, has divided the country into warring entities and autonomist and seccessionist regions.