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UN Suspends Food Aid to Somalia

The United Nations food agency has suspended all humanitarian aid shipments to Somalia. From U.N. headquarters. The cutoff came after pirates hijacked a ship carrying food aid off the Somali cost.

U.N. officials say Somali pirates who commandeered a World Food Program aid vessel last week are demanding $500,000 ransom for release of the ship and its crew. The hijacked vessel was carrying two months worth of food aid for about 28-thousand tsunami survivors in Somalia.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric says the high risk of piracy in Somali waters prompted WFP officials to halt all further shipments until the incident is resolved. "The WFP decision was taken because of insecurity along Somalia's coast; it will be reviewed based on whether or not the detained food vessel and crew are released," he said.

WFP officials say they are hopeful of a quick resolution of the hijacking so there will be no interruption of food supplies. The agency is helping more than a quarter of a million Somalis with about three-thousand tons of food each month, and currently has about two weeks worth of food stocks in the country.

The ship had been chartered from a shipping agency in Mombasa, Kenya. U.N. officials say the crew included a Sri Lankan captain, a Tanzanian engineer and eight Kenyan crewmen. It was hijacked late last month about 300 kilometers northeast of the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

In a statement, the World Food Program said its officials have been in regular contact with Somali tribal leaders in hopes of winning release for the ship, cargo and crew.

Spokesman Dujarric says this is the first time a United Nations-chartered vessel has been hijacked by Somali pirates.