A flotilla of NATO
warships is expected soon off the Somali coast to protect ships from pirates.
Some of those ships are loaded with emergency food aid for Somalia. Russia is
now asking the Somali Transitional Federal Government for permission to send
one of its ships to the area as well.
related news, officials in Somalia's Puntland region say the French Navy
has captured nine suspected pirates and handed them over to Puntland
authorities. They say the French intercepted two small boats off the Somali coast on Wednesday. Media reports
say there were weapons found aboard the vessels.
agencies say they hope the naval escort duty will ensure a free flow of food
aid into Somalia and ease the humanitarian crisis. Peter Smerdon is a spokesman
for the UN World Food Program in Nairobi. He spoke to VOA English to Africa
Service reporter Joe De Capua about the naval escorts.
"Generally, we're only concerned with protecting
assistance going into Somalia from piracy. So, when these various forces offer
to escort humanitarian assistance into Somalia we're very pleased. So, today
(Thursday), the Netherlands is taking over escorting World Food Program ships
into Somali waters from the Canadians, who've been doing this since August as
part of a naval operation since November last year…. And we are told that NATO
and the European Union may well provide frigates for similar purpose once the
Netherlands's finishes up in December," he says.
With the current escort duty, the WFP has been
able to get food into the country and distributed. Smerdon says, "Basically,
they escort the food into either Mogadishu or Merka. Merka's a beach port about
a hundred kilometers south of Mogadishu. We then put it in warehouses and it
goes out for monthly food distribution. But because we need to get so much food
into Somalia at the moment, because we need to feed two-point-four million a
month, generally it doesn't sit in the warehouse for long."
A lot of food is needed before the end of the
year. "We have to move 150,000 tons of food, enough to feed one-point-five
million people for six months, into Somalia in the final three months of this
year. And that's why escorts are so vital, because 90 percent of WFP food for
Somalia has to come by sea," he says.
Smerdon says that while the WFP faces serious
insecurity in Somalia, the agency has "over the last year or so built a fairly
robust security mechanism. So, we are still able to shift large amounts of food
assistance and get it to the people in need."
The WFP spokesman says the agency needs a
constant flow of food ships to the country, but warns the agency is short of
contributions. "We are always short. We need more assistance from donors, but
we are trying to get as many ships in as possible to reach that two-point-four
Asked whether the WFP is concerned the global
financial crisis will affect donations, Smerdon says, "Well, it's (in the)
early days yet. But we would hope there is no reduction of donations because
definitely this food is saving lives around the world. The world has shown that
there's more than a trillion (US) dollars on the table to deal with the global
financial crisis. So we would hope the international community would step
forward and see that the two billion dollars that we need to complete our work
in 2008 across the world is relatively a small amount and therefore will come
forward with it despite the pressure of the global financial crisis."
the last several weeks, US navy ships have surrounded a cargo vessel that was
hijacked by pirates. The ship is believed carrying tanks and other weapons.