The U.S. Navy says it is monitoring the situation surrounding a ship carrying U.N. food aid that was hijacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia. A spokeswoman for U.S. naval forces in the region, Lieutenant Denise Garcia, says U.S. forces are "standing off" for now because the ship -- the MV Rozen -- is not in international waters. Somali local and national government officials are also investigating the incident. Cathy Majtenyi reports for VOA from Nairobi.
There are reports that the MV Rozen is anchored in a small port near the town of Bargal in the semi-autonomous Puntland region, although the fate of the ship's 12-member crew is still unknown.
The Kenyan vessel, owned by the Mombasa-based Motaku Shipping Agency, was contracted out by the World Food Program to deliver food aid to Somalia.
World Food Program spokeswoman Stephanie Savariaud tells VOA that the U.S.-led Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, based in Djibouti, informed the aid agency that one of its warships was on its way to the area where the ship is being held.
She describes to VOA what happened to the ship on Sunday.
"It had just delivered a 1,800 tons of food aid to Bosasso and Derera in the northeast, and it was sailing back basically to go back to Mombasa to take some more food to distribute it to the south of Somalia this time, but it was seized off Bargal, and basically that is where it is anchored off at the moment," she said.
Somali government officials are also investigating the hijacking.
The chargé d'affaires at the Somali Embassy in Nairobi, Mohamed Ali Nur, says that he was informed about the hijacking Sunday.
"I've passed the information to our minister of interior and the prime minister himself, and as of yesterday and this morning, they were going to talk to the Puntland authority and the people in there," he said.
The Motaku Shipping Company's manager Karim Kudrati tells VOA that his company is the only one willing to go to Somali because of the piracy problem.
Kudrati says that, despite the fact that this is the fourth hijacking of his company's ships off the coast of Somalia in two years, the company is still committed to delivering food aid to the volatile country.
The London-based International Maritime Bureau said in a January report that it feared a rise in piracy incidents with the departure of the Islamic Courts Union, which had control over the capital Mogadishu and much of the south for the second half of last year before being ousted by the Somali transitional government backed by Ethiopian troops.
In an interview last month, the director of the International Maritime Bureau told VOA that piracy had been virtually wiped out under the Islamic Courts Union, but will likely now re-surface.
Piracy has been a big problem in Somali waters, with warlords and their militias using piracy as a source of income.
By the end of November 2005, there had been at least 28 piracy incidents occurring in the waters off the coast of Somalia, which are considered to be among the most dangerous in the world.