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WFP Warns of Piracy off Somalia Coast

The U.N. World Food Program has called for international action to stamp out piracy off the coast of Somalia. The agency warned that aid supplies are under severe threat. For VOA, Sabina Castelfranco reports from Rome.

The Rome-based World Food Program says the increase of piracy off the coast of Somalia must be addressed by the world's political and diplomatic leaders because it is threatening the ability of the aid organization to feed one million Somalis.

WFP executive director, Josette Sheeran said that unless urgent action is taken not only will World Food Program supply lines be cut, but also those of other aid agencies working in various parts of the country. WFP Public Affairs Officer, Barry Came, explains why piracy is such a concern.

"The fastest and cheapest way to get food aid in large quantities into Somalia is by sea," said Came. "And in the last few weeks there has been an increase in the number, in the incidents of piracy. Since the beginning of the year there has been at least five instances. There were three in the last week alone involving fishing trawlers."

Piracy has been rife since the country slid into chaos after warlords toppled military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. Many pirates claim to be "coastguards" protecting their waters against illegal fishing and dumping of toxic waste.

But in the latest attack during the weekend, pirates killed a guard working for a WFP-contracted ship's agent. The WFP spokesperson recounts what occurred.

"The Jordanian registered ship, the M.V. Victoria had just unloaded 4,000 tons of food aid in Merke and it was on its way back to Dar-es-Salaam. When it was about 60 nautical miles off the coast, it was attacked by pirates," added Came. "It issued a distress signal and the owners of the vessels, back in Merke, dispatched two boats full of armed guards out to the sea to fend off the pirates."

Came said that although there was a gun-battle and one guard was killed, the ship was recovered and taken back to Merke.

Last year, the World Food Program was forced to suspend food aid deliveries by sea for weeks after the hijacking of two ships it had contracted.

Despite serious operational and security challenges, the food agency continues to deliver aid to hundreds of thousands of vulnerable Somalis. Last week it began a new round of food distribution to more than 120,000 people forced to flee fighting in Mogadishu.

The World Food Program says the Somali authorities must act to stop these pirates of the sea before they cause any more misery to the crews of hijacked ships and to the people who rely on food assistance for their survival.