France Offers to Protect WFP Ships from Pirates

The United Nations (UN) World Food Programme (WFP) has accepted France's offer to protect its ships from Somali pirates as its vessels carry food aid to needy Somalis. In a WFP press release, Executive Director Josette Sheeran states, "We are grateful to the Government of France for this generous offer, which would reduce the threat of piracy and allow WFP to feed more hungry people in Somalia." The statement goes on to describe the protection plan, "The French proposal envisions a two-month period during which naval vessels would escort ships carrying WFP food assistance as they traverse Somali waters. Ships would be escorted to the entrance of Mogadishu port."

This plan comes after the WFP and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) appealed for higher-level intervention, such as the UN as a whole, earlier this year. In fact, in a London meeting on Wednesday, July 11, IMO Secretary-General, Efthimios E. Mitropoulos and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon met to discuss the rampant piracy in Somali waters. This meeting was a direct result of the IMO Council’s decision the month before that authorized Mitropoulos “… to request Mr. Ban to bring the piracy situation off Somalia, once again, to the attention of the UN Security Council, [and] for the latter to request the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia to take action to prevent and suppress acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships sailing off its coasts.”

According to the WFP press release, "Some 80 percent of WFP food assistance for Somalia moves by sea, and pirate attacks have threatened to cut WFP’s main supply route, jeopardizing rations for the 1.2 million people WFP expects to be feeding by the end of 2007." In fact, an increase of Somali pirate attacks in 2005 caused the WFP to suspend all deliveries by sea for weeks. "Overall," according to the WFP press release, "there were 17 pirate attacks on ships in waters off Somalia in the first half of 2007, compared with eight attacks in the same period last year."

Piracy has been increasing in Somalia since the military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was overturned in 1991 by warlords. Though attacks decreased during the second half of 2006 when Islamists controlled most of southern Somalia, they have been increasing since the Islamists were expelled in January of this year.

PlanetData has a thorough timeline that represents maritime piracy incidents off the coast of Somalia beginning toward the end of 2006 and as the Islamic Courts Union's control over the country ended. The timeline can be accessed by clicking here.