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Food Shipments to Somalia at Risk, As Canadian Escort Vessel Nears End of Duty

The World Food Program says it needs to bring about 150 thousand tons of food into Somalia over the next three months. However, as of September 27th, food ships will no longer have an armed escort vessel, and shippers are fearful of entering Somali waters due to piracy.

Peter Goossens is the WFP's country director for Somalia. From Mombasa, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about why he's in the Kenyan coast city.

"My purpose of the visit is basically to have a little ceremony on board the Canadian naval vessel that has been escorting our ships since August 18th. We talked a little bit about the operation, about what needs to happen in the next couple of months, the need for more escorts because they are leaving on September 27th," he says.

Goossens is concerned about the lack of an escort ship after that date. "That is making me very nervous right now. We had an eight-week gap before the Canadians jumped in. In that time we had basically run out of our in-country stocks (of food). That means my flexibility is basically gone…. And of course, if I don't have escorts and find vessels of a decent size to help me out…we're going to see serious shortages of food in Somalia," he says.

Owners of large ships in South Africa are reluctant to put their vessels at risk. "That's correct. Those are the bigger vessels. The smaller coastal vessels that we might still be able to find are just not adequate anymore. We need the bigger ships. The first thing they ask you…is do you have escorts? And if no escorts, then they say I have to think about it."

Asked why no other nation has come forward to offer an escort vessel, Goossens says, "That is, in effect, my big question mark. I don't know. The navies that so far have assisted us – we started with the French, then the Danish and the Dutch and now the Canadians – have very positive experiences. They like doing it. They get a lot of direct, positive (media) coverage from it. So do the governments. So, the question of why is it so difficult, I really don't know."

Goossens and others from the World Food Program will be visiting various countries next week to ask for an escort vessel. "We are very actively lobbying," he says.