Long ago and far away

Friday, September 19, 2008

Somalia: Escorted Food Ship Arrives Safely


World Food Program ship arrives in Somali with food, as set out here:
A ship ferrying UN food aid arrived in Somalia's Mogadishu port Thursday escorted by a Canadian frigate to deter an attack by pirates.

The Golina carried 4,000 tonnes of food to the war-torn country, where at least 3.2 million people are facing shortages, an AFP correspondent aboard the Canadian frigate Ville de Qebec reported.

The World Food Programme-chartered ship will spend four days offloading its cargo while the frigate returns to the Kenyan port of Mombasa to escort a second ship to Somalia.

African Union troops in Mogadishu are providing security.

With rampant piracy and rising insecurity in Somalia, sea transport is the last lifeline for the hunger-stricken Somalis.
And, we hear from the skipper of the Canadian escort ship:
The commanding officer of HMCS Ville de Quebec had to escort a United Nations ship delivering aid to the war-torn country and after Somali pirates seized two vessels earlier this week, he knew it was a risky mission.

As he watched the food aid containers offload at Somalia's Mogadishu port Thursday, Commander Chris Dickinson breathed a sigh of relief.

The Canadian frigate began assisting World Food Programme (WFP) ships last month as they go about transporting food supplies from Kenya to Somalia where at least 3.2 million people are facing shortages.

Dickinson eventually lifted the onboard red alert signal when he was certain there was no further risk of an insurgent rocket attack.

"It feels great. I always feel relieved at that stage," he said. "When I'm heading off again, I'm looking forward to the next one."

Ninety minutes earlier, as both vessels entered Somali waters, the rise in tension and focus onboard HMCS Ville de Quebec was palpable.

Silence quickly descended on board as the alert level was notched up to yellow and then red, leaving only a gentle humming from the ship's engines.

Men wearing flak jackets and armed with assault rifles spread out along the deck, and in the ship's command centre officers carefully orchestrated the final approach.

According to the commander it is during this latter stage in the voyage when they are the greatest threat from speedboats laden with explosives ramming the hull or rockets fired from the shore.

A brief anxious moment followed when officers caught sight of a small Somali fishing boat stray from the mouth of Mogadishu port. But the threat was short lived.

"Normally, when we are at sea, the risks come from the pirates. But when we get to coast, it becomes different: ashore violence and terrorist attacks," said Dickinson.

Outside a helicopter took off for a reconnaissance flight, while seamen lowered a speedboat to fetch the Canadian naval officers from the Golina, the WFP cargo ship.

HMCS Ville de Quebec's escort ended two nautical miles (3.7 kilometres) off the Somali coast.

Two speedboats carrying armed Ugandan soldiers from the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia came to meet the Golina and guide it to the offloading point at the port.

Having completed its mission, the Ville de Quebec immediately heads back to the Kenyan port of Mombasa, where the next WFP cargo ship is expected from the South African port of Durban in a few days.
Once ashore, the food will be controlled by...?

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