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Piracy Leads to Delays in Food Aid to Somalia

A spokesman for the World Food Program, Peter Smerdon, expressed concern that the pirate attacks on food shipment would lead to a delay of needed food relief to Somalia, where drought and civil war has left tens of thousands of people hungry.

The cargo ship Maersk-Alabama, freed this week from pirates, is now unloading food in the port of Mombasa, Kenya. But two other ships have been taken or diverted: the Togo-flagged Sea Horse was attacked 700 kilometers from the Somali capital, Mogadishu, on its way to pick up 7000 metric tons of maize for the WFP from Mumbai, India.

"This is a worrying development for us," said Smerdon:

"We are concerned the people in Somalia will go hungry unless the Lebanese-owned Sea Horse is quickly released or a replacement ship can be found. It was due to open a new corridor for the WFP from Mumbai to Somalia to deliver life-saving assistance. So we are alarmed that it was hijacked before it could even do this."

A second ship is the US-flagged Liberty Sun, which was attacked by pirates Tuesday after it had made a food delivery at Port Sudan. Smerdon said it was damaged by rocket propelled grenade fire, but the crew is safe and the vessel is going to Mombasa under US escort.

The Liberty Sun is carrying 27 thousand metric tons of food, mostly for the WFP's program in Somalia, with smaller amounts going to its program in southern Sudan and Kenya. Among the food stocks are maize meal, wheat flour, yellow peas, lentils and soya blend, which is useful for treating malnutrition in children and mothers. It's also carrying three thousand metric tons of food for World Vision and for NGOs in Uganda.

Smerdon said thanks to EU naval escorts, food deliveries have been delivered without being attacked to the port of Mogadishu, Somalia. Likewise, he say today there is little looting of food once it's taken ashore. One reason is because the WFP gets the public or written assurances of local leaders and armed groups that the convoys will not be attacked. Another is the system transporters use to deliver the food.

"The transport companies work under a cash bond system; they have to give us a cash bond in return in return for taking the WFP food. If the food doers not arrive we keep the cash bond. So, it is in the interest of the transporters to make sure they are only delivering food to areas they can reach without being looted or attacked. This system works well and we lose very little food in Somalia from looting."

Some political groups in Somalia portray the pirates as a sort of informal coast guard or even as modern-day Robin Hoods taking goods from the rich to give to the poor. But according to Smerdon, "These groups have used all sorts of excuses to justify their actions, but I think from the growth in piracy one can see clearly that is simply a money-making exercise. "

"It may be driven by Somalia being awash with weapons and the bad humanitarian situation so everyone wants to make money," he continued, "but they are buying large houses and equipment; they are not redistributing wealth to the poorest."