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WFP Says Tsunami Relief Ship Hijacked Off Somalia


The World Food Program says Somali gunmen hijacked a ship delivering food relief for tsunami victims early this week off the coast of Somalia.

The ship was carrying 850 metric tons of rice that was meant to feed 28,000 tsunami victims for two months.

Somali gunmen hijacked the ship early Monday about 300 kilometers northeast of the capital Mogadishu.

The gunmen are holding the cargo and 10-member crew hostage while demanding a $500,000 ransom.

The World Food Program had chartered the ship from the Motaku Shipping Agency. Its director, Inayet Kudrati, explains how he came to learn of the hijacking.

"We lost radio contact with the ship on Sunday," he explained. "From Sunday we were not able to communicate. On Tuesday morning, we got the small radio message from the ship that they are in trouble, and then they just gave me the telephone contact numbers. That's all."

A WFP statement describing the situation and condemning the move, says it is against international law to hinder the passage of humanitarian assistance and there is no justification for hijacking.

Spokeswoman Rene McGuffin tells VOA her agency is working through the local community as a way of resolving the situation.

"We are encouraging those elders, those local authorities who can assist," she said. "We do believe that once people are aware of the fact that this is humanitarian assistance for Somalis who have had their livelihoods destroyed by the tsunami - once they learn that this is for them, we are hopeful that they will in fact let the food immediately proceed on its journey."

Piracy off the coast of Somalia has become an increasingly serious problem. The International Maritime Bureau recently warned ships to stay anywhere from 50 to 100 miles away from the coastline, especially in the country's northeastern and eastern areas.

The WFP-chartered ship was sailing about 60 kilometers from shore when it was attacked.

The International Maritime Bureau says there had been at least five gun and grenade attacks within the past few months on ships passing Somalia's coastline.