- The 'MV Rozen', a vessel hired by the UN food agency WFP to deliver food aid in Somalia, and its crew of 12 remain under control of a group of hijackers. Local sources say six of the hijackers were arrested while ashore, while police boats and a US warship monitor the fleeing vessel.
The UN today confirmed that authorities in the north-west Somali region of Puntland today arrested four men alleged to be part of a group that hijacked the 'MV Rozen'. "The four men were arrested when they went ashore to buy supplies in the town of Bargal in Puntland," according to a UN release.
The Fisheries Ministry of semi-independent Puntland today claimed it had arrested a further two hijackers. It was not clear under which circumstances these two were held.
"The arrest is welcome news, but the safe release of the crew and the vessel remains our chief concern," commented Peter Goossens, the head of the UN's World Food Programme in Somalia. "We very much hope this ordeal will finish soon," he added.
The 'MV Rozen' is still under control of the pirates, whose number is unclear. Puntland sources said that only four hijackers now remained on the vessel. But they are believed to be heavily armed and pose a threat to the crew of six Sri Lankans, including the captain, and six Kenyans. The crew is now held as hostages.
The WFP chartered vessel had just delivered food aid to Somaliland and Puntland when pirates seized it this weekend. Yesterday, the 'MV Rozen' was taken to the small Puntland port town of Bargal, but by then the hijacked vessel had already attracted the attention of Puntland police and the US navy, which followed the ship at close range and made plans to storm it if moving to international waters.
While anchoring off Bargal, some of the hijackers had seemingly been sent into town to buy provisions, where they were arrested. Scared by the arrests and the close monitoring by five Puntland police patrol boats, the pirates this afternoon decided to leave the small port. The vessel is now reported to head southwards to an unknown destination, trying to escape authorities.
According to UN sources, no demands have yet been made to free the hostages onboard the 'Ms Rozen'. Authorities therefore seem indecisive on how to treat the pirates.
"We are appealing for the safe return of the crew and the vessel as soon as possible, and for people to respect the need for humanitarian delivery corridors," the WFP's Mr Goossens said in a statement today. "Somalia is one of the poorest countries in the world, and there are families whose lives depend on our ability to get food aid through."
The 'MV Rozen' had just unloaded 1,800 tonnes of food aid and equipment in northern Somalia when it was hijacked - the fourth such attack on UN supply vessels off the strife-ridden Somali coast in 20 months. In 2005, after two earlier hijackings, WFP temporarily suspended deliveries of food aid by sea for some weeks, but since then sea deliveries have been uninterrupted, even during the worst days of the conflict between the transitional and the ousted Islamists at the end of last year.
Only last year, the 'MV Rozen' itself escaped an attempted hijack in southern Somali waters, just south of Mogadishu.
According to the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia, local pirates are mostly well organised and trained groups, organised and dressed in a military way. Most are well equipped when it comes to both light and heavy arms, speedboats and satellite positioning devices. In several coastal regions, they have been known to be in military control of local settlements.
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