NEW YORK – Time is running out for Somalia. As many as three million people – one-third of the country – live under threat of starvation. Their lifeline is the sea, from which food, medical supplies, and other aid arrives. And there lies the problem.
Heavily armed bands of modern-day pirates in speedboats are terrorizing ships in Somalia’s coastal waters. So far this year they have raided more than 50 vessels, stealing cargos and hijacking ships, from private yachts to oil tankers, and extorting some $100 million a year in ransom.
Just last week, a Ukrainian freighter carrying heavy weaponry, including tanks, was hijacked. A Greek petrochemical carrier was seized, and another attacked, as was an Iranian oil tanker. These pirates currently hold more than a dozen ships hostage in Somali ports.
Ships laden with tens of thousands of tons of maize, sorghum, split peas, and cooking oil from the United Nations World Food Program and other international aid organizations must navigate these dangerous waters. Keeping Somalia’s sea-borne supply line open is imperative. It carries 90% of the humanitarian assistance delivered by the WFP, which in turn supplies nearly 90% of the aid that feeds so many Somalis.