WFP suspends humanitarian shipments

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) suspended on Monday all shipments of humanitarian assistance to Somalia following the hijacking of a WFP-chartered vessel carrying food aid for 28,000 tsunami survivors.

"The decision was taken because of the insecurity of Somali waters along the east coast," WFP said in a statement. "It will be reviewed depending on the release of the detained relief food, vessel and crew."

The MV Semlow was hijacked on 27 June between Haradheere and Hobyo, some 300 km northeast of the capital, Mogadishu.

WFP had chartered the ship from the Kenyan port of Mombasa, with a crew that included a Sri Lankan captain, a Tanzanian engineer and eight Kenyan crew members.

"If there is a quick, favourable solution, we hope there will be no major interruption of WFP operations in the country," WFP Somalia Country Director, Robert Hauser, said.

"The 10 crew members are reported to be in good health and we remain hopeful that the humanitarian cargo on the MV Semlow will be allowed to continue its journey to Bossaso in the northeast of the country unconditionally," he added. "But for now, the waters off the Somali coast present too great a threat to send further shipments."

WFP said a government delegation had travelled to Harardheere District to facilitate the release of the food, the vessel and the crew. The head of this mission, Hirsi Aden Roble, the Somali transitional vice-minister of ministry of marine transport, was joined other influential elders.

The vessel left Mombasa on 23 June destined for Bossaso in Puntland, carrying 850 tonnes of rice donated by Japan and Germany.