Tuesday, September 20, 2005
A United Nations-chartered vessel hijacked in June as it carried food aid to Somalia has docked at a port near the capital Mogadishu. Gunmen aboard have issued fresh demands to release it and its crew, officials said overnight.
The MV SemlowEl-Maan port officials said the St Vincent and the Grenadines-registered ship arrived in the port, 35 km north of Mogadishu, and gunmen demanded that 850 tonnes of German- and Japanese-donated rice be offloaded into their custody. "The gunmen in two small vessels demanded that the food be offloaded to their vessels," the port official said, adding that cargo was yet to be removed from the ship. The gunmen also demanded an unknown amount of money, which would be used to transport the food back to Haradere, about 300 km north of Mogadishu, where the ship was hijacked on June 27, the official said. "The amount of money they are demanding for the food to be taken back to Haradere is about $US100,000 ($131,400)," said the port official. After the money is paid, the gunmen have promised to allow the ship, MV Semlow, and its crew to return to the home in the port of Mombasa in Kenya. The UN's World Food Programme (WFP), which had chartered the vessel, confirmed its docking, but said negotiations continued with help from the Somali transitional federal government, El-Maan port officials and middlemen. "We are negotiating with help of Somali officials for the safe passage of the ship and its crew members after discharging the food," WFP deputy representative for Somalia Leo der Velden said in Nairobi. The new demands violate a deal that was reached in June between the hijackers and Somali government officials. Broadly under the deal, the food would be handed over to the administration, which will in turn distribute it to drought-stricken areas in central and southern Somalia, where inte-rclan fighting has hampered arrival of relief supplies. The ship and its 10-member crew - eight Kenyans, a Tanzanian engineer and a Sri Lankan captain - was taking food aid to victims of last year's tsunami in north-eastern Somalia.