UN agency calls for naval escorts against Somali pirates
Jun 12, 2008, 9:11 GMT
Nairobi - The United Nations' World Food Programme (WFP) Thursday called on naval powers to provide escorts to protect its aid shipments off the pirate-ridden Somali coast, warning that millions of Somalis could starve without help.
A Dutch frigate, which ensured no WFP ships have been hijacked since last November despite numerous attacks on other vessels, is due to end its tour of duty on June 25, the WFP said.
The UN Security Council recently approved incursions into Somali waters to curb piracy, which the weak transitional government, currently engaged in countering a bloody insurgency, is powerless to prevent.
However, the WFP said that nobody has volunteered to escort vital food deliveries.
'Without escorts, our whole maritime supply route will be threatened,' the WFP's Somalia Country Director Peter Goossens said in a statement.
'Shipping companies are reluctant to sail unescorted to Somalia, and we have no offers to take over from the Royal Netherlands Navy,' he added.
Piracy is rife off the lawless Somali coast, which is close to key shipping routes.
Cargo ships and luxury yachts have been targeted by the heavily- armed pirates, who then hold the crew ransom.
Agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organization have said that 2.6 million Somalis, many of them displaced by fighting, are in urgent need of food aid. The number could rise to 3.5 million later this year, the WFP warned.
'Millions of Somalis are suffering from a combination of insecurity, drought and high food and fuel prices,' said Goossens. 'If relief shipments slow down, we could face a major catastrophe.'
The WFP, which is trying to scale up operations to help feed the displaced, said that 80 per cent of its aid arrives by sea
The Horn of Africa nation has been in a state of anarchy since the overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.
Fighting has intensified since transitional federal government troops and their Ethiopian allies wrested control of the capital Mogadishu from the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC).
The UIC brought relative order and curbed piracy during its six months in control in 2006.
Al-Shabaab, the UIC's armed wing, has been waging a guerrilla war ever since and hundreds of thousands have fled the vicious fighting in Modagishu to live in makeshift camps.