Archive for Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Pirates cause aid ship to refuse voyage to Somalia

May 22, 2007

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— A cargo ship carrying food for poor Somalis refused to leave Kenya on Monday because of rampant piracy, and the U.S. Navy warned vessels to stay clear of Somalia's lawless waters where everyone from aid workers to fishermen have become targets.

The U.N. World Food Program has appealed for international action to stamp out Somali pirates threatening the delivery of humanitarian supplies to the Horn of Africa country, which is trying to recover from the worst fighting in more than a decade.

The ship was loaded with 850 tons of food, but the shipping agency contracted by the WFP demanded the Kenyan government provide security for travel into Somali waters. On Saturday, pirates staged a failed hijack attempt on another WFP boat, killing a Somali guard.

"We need some sort of security to ply into Somali waters ... because they (Somali pirates) are everywhere. Now they are ashore, (and) very far off into the sea. It is becoming too much," Inayet Kudrati of the Motaku Shipping Agency said Monday.

A Kenyan government spokesman did not return calls for comment. Peter Smerdon, spokesman for WFP, said he had no comment on the contractor's security arrangements, as long as they were acceptable to Somali and Kenyan authorities.

Saturday's attack on the aid ship was the eighth this year off Somalia's 1,880-mile coast, which is near crucial shipping routes connecting the Red Sea with the Indian Ocean.

Trained in combat during the anarchy that has gripped Somalia since the 1991 ouster of a dictatorship, the pirates are heavily armed and use speedboats equipped with satellite phones and GPS devices. The bandits target both passenger and cargo vessels for ransom or loot, using the money to buy weapons.

"Although there are coalition forces operating in the area, they cannot be everywhere monitoring every ship that passes the coast of Somalia," the U.S. Navy's Maritime Liaison Office in Bahrain said in a statement. It urged ships to stay 200 nautical miles off Somalia's coast.

In 2005, two ships carrying WFP aid were overwhelmed by pirates. The number of reported at-sea hijackings off Somalia that year was 35, compared with two in 2004, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

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