French offer to protect UN food ships from Somali pirates welcomed by UN and WFP

Sep 28, 2007
Author: P&S

27 September 2007 (UN News) – Faced with the risk of mounting piracy off the coast of Somalia at a time when it is increasing its shipments to feed over a million hungry people in the strife-torn country, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has welcomed France’s offer to provide naval escorts to protect its vessels.

WFP and the UN International Maritime Organisation (IMO) have jointly appealed high-level international action to stamp out the piracy, which saw 17 attacks in the first half of 2007 compared with eight in the same period last year. In 2005, an upsurge of piracy, including the hijacking of two ships contracted for WFP, forced the Agency to suspend all deliveries by sea for some weeks.

“We are grateful to the Government of France for this generous offer, which would reduce the threat of piracy and allow WFP to feed more hungry people in Somalia,” WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran said.

Ms Sheeran also thanked the multinational coalition naval force off Somalia for its increased surveillance in recent months and said she hoped it would continue.

Some 80 per cent of WFP food assistance for Somalia moves by sea, and pirate attacks threaten to cut the main supply route, jeopardising rations for the 1.2 million people WFP expects to be feeding by the end of 2007 as drought, floods and factional fighting take their toll.

The French proposal envisions a two-month period during which naval vessels would escort ships carrying WFP food assistance as they traverse Somali waters. Ships would be escorted to the entrance of the port of Mogadishu, the capital.

WFP is increasing its food distributions in Somalia and has to ship more food just as the stormy monsoon season is coming to an end, Ms Sheeran said.
Before the onset of the monsoon in June, increasing pirate attacks had cut by half the number of ships WFP contracts to transport food. Without escorts, WFP fears the pirates will return as the heavy monsoon seas calm, allowing them to start hunting for ships again.

Most of the pirate assaults did not appear aimed at seizing cargo but rather designed to force ship owners to pay ransom for the vessels and crew held hostage. The pirates are highly mobile, manning fast boats and using satellite position-fixing gear to attack ships far out at sea, sometimes more than 200 nautical miles off the Somali coast.

In 2006, WFP delivered some 78,000 metric tonnes of food to 1.4 million people affected by drought and floods in southern Somalia alone.



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