The World Food Program (WFP) says the hijackers of a WFP-chartered ship seized three months ago have broken an agreement to release the vessel, its crew and cargo of food aid. A WFP spokesman says all previous agreements the group has made with the hijackers now are cancelled.
A spokeswoman for the World Food Program, Christiane Berthiaume, says WFP has learned a hard lesson.
"Obviously, we cannot trust the pirates, especially as we really thought that we were going to solve that problem of the hijacking of the boat three months ago," she said. "This is a long ordeal for the 10-member crew and we thought that the pirates would release the 850 tons of rice. Those are contributions from Japan and Germany for the victims of the tsunami in Somalia."
The rice, which was meant to feed 28,000 tsunami victims, is worth $250,000. The pirates asked a ransom of $500,000 to release the ship, the 10-man crew and the food.
Ms. Berthiaume, speaking to reporters in Geneva, says this is the first time in WFP's history that a ship carrying relief food has been hijacked. She says WFP does not pay ransom. Instead it negotiated an agreement with the pirates through Somali's transitional federal government and community leaders.
Under the pact, the hijackers were to agree to release the Kenyan-owned boat and allow it to sail to the port of El Maan, just north of the Somali capital of Mogadishu. After the food was handed over to the Somali authorities, the crew and vessel were to be allowed to travel on freely to Mombasa, Kenya.
But Ms. Berthiaume says the pirates reneged of the deal. She says they have now sailed back to the port of El Maan where the boat is anchored close to another vessel that reportedly was hijacked last week by the same group of gunmen.
She says WFP is very concerned and frustrated by these events. She says the agency is calling on community leaders, politicians and members of civil society in the communities where most of the pirates live to intervene to end this ordeal peacefully, and no longer to stand passively by.
Ms. Berthiaume says the hijacking of the relief vessel is a violation of international law. Furthermore, she says this action is especially shameful as the food was intended to assist the victims of the tsunami.
"So, this food should go to the people that are in need and we are warning the pirates that they cannot and should not sell that food," she added. "And, if they do, this will be a criminal act."
Ms. Berthiaume says WFP is placing advertisements in Somali newspapers warning that the food is not for sale. She says the notice warns that WFP reserves its rights under international law to prosecute anyone caught buying or selling any of the humanitarian relief food.