June 30, 2005

Somali gunmen hijack ship carrying food aid

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Somali gunmen have hijacked a shipcarrying 850 tonnes of World Food Programme (WFP) rice forSomali tsunami survivors and are demanding $500,000 to free the10 crew on board, the ship's owner said on Thursday.

The MV Semlow was captured between Haradhere and Hobyo,some 300 km (190 miles) northeast of the Somali capitalMogadishu on Monday, while en route to the port of Bossaso.

"The hijackers are asking for $500,000 but we've told themwe're just a small boat with relief cargo to feed your Somalipeople," said Inayet Kudrati, director of the Kenya-basedMokatu Shipping Agency which leased the ship to the WFP.

He said the hijackers had told him the crew -- a Sri Lankancaptain, a Tanzanian engineer and eight Kenyans -- were safe.

The International Maritime Bureau has classed the watersaround the lawless Horn of Africa country as some of theworld's most dangerous. Warlords overran Somalia and carved itinto fiefdoms after ousting dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in1991.

The WFP said the food aid, donated by Japan and Germany,was destined for thousands of Somalis affected by the December26 tsunami, and appealed to the local community to helpnegotiate the release of the boat and its cargo.

"We're urging local leaders and elders to allow the boat togo on with its journey," WFP spokeswoman Rene McGuffin said.

the WFP is providing food to 28,000 Somalis whose homes andlives were devastated by the killer wave that swept across theIndian Ocean after an undersea earthquake off north Indonesia.