September 19, 2005

Somali gunmen take hijacked U.N. aid ship to port

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Somali pirates took a hijacked
U.N.-chartered ship to port on Monday in what appeared to be
the ending of a nearly three-month standoff in the Indian

In the most high-profile of a spree of attacks on ships off
the lawless Horn of African nation, gunmen on June 27 seized
the Kenyan MV Semlow with 10 crew members and 850 tonnes of
food aid sent by the U.N. World Food Programme.

After lengthy negotiations and a broken deal in August,
they finally brought the ship into El Maan port, north of the
capital Mogadishu, on Monday morning, WFP confirmed.

"We can confirm that the Semlow has docked in the port of
El Maan," WFP spokeswoman Rene McGuffin said in Nairobi.

Under an accord struck with the militiamen who took the
boat, the rice was to be offloaded for distribution by
Somalia's fledgling new government, after which the crew would
sail the MV Semlow back to the Kenyan port of Mombasa.

Inayet Kudrati, a director of Mombasa-based Motaku Shipping
Agency which leased the boat, said the eight Kenyan crew
members, Sri Lankan captain and Tanzanian engineer should be
back in Mombasa in about a week.

"I feel very overjoyed the incident has come to an end. We
are happy the vessel has docked in a commercial port now and
soon they will be released," Kudrati said.

WFP said it was the first time in its history that a ship
carrying relief food was hijacked.

The militiamen had initially demanded a $500,000 ransom,
then demanded the rice for their home area in northern Somalia,
before agreeing to a face-saving deal whereby the new
Transitional Federal Government (TFG) would distribute the aid.

The TFG is the 14th attempt to re-establish central
government in Somalia after warlords ousted dictator Mohamed
Siad Barre in 1991.

-- Reporting by Andrew Cawthorne and Guled Mohamed