Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Danish warship steers food aid past pirates to Somalia

Guled MohamedON BOARD HDMS THETIS March 19, 2008 (Reuters) - Bristling with heavy machineguns and computerised grenade launchers, the HDMS Thetis with its crew of Danish marines is shepherding vital food aid through one of the world's most dangerous waterways.

In the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia, pirates have attacked several vessels in recent months carrying relief supplies to the anarchic Horn of Africa country, holding the ships and their crews for ransom.

The United Nations has appealed for rich nations to help it get humanitarian aid to impoverished Somalis, and the militaries of France and Denmark have answered the call.

"This is the noblest mission I've ever been involved with and I'm ready to die," said one Danish commando on board the MV Fade 1, a Panamanian-flagged cargo ship trailing the Thetis and carrying 5,300 tonnes of aid for the U.N. World Food Programme.

"This operation is better than those useless political battles," said the soldier, clad in camouflage and toting an M16 assault rifle, a 9mm pistol strapped to his right thigh.Piracy has been rife off Somalia since warlords there toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

But the attacks have reached unprecedented levels due to instability onshore as the interim government battles Islamist insurgents.

In the latest incident, hijackers freed a Russian ship on Tuesday that they captured last month. The crew were unharmed.

A local Somali official said a $700,000 ransom had been paid, but the vessel's owners said it would be "irresponsible" for it to give any details of contacts with the hijackers.Doing so could encourage more attacks, it warned.

The 3,500-tonne, 112-metre Thetis is on its second humanitarian mission in the region since February, escorting food aid from Mombasa in Kenya to the Somali capital Mogadishu.WFP hopes to feed close to 2 million Somalis by August.

Up to 1 million of Somalia's total population of 9 million are living as refugees after 17 years of conflict, and the United Nations has described the situation in Somalia as Africa's worst humanitarian crisis.

Sitting aboard the MV Fade 1, 56-year-old Syrian captain Mustafa Al-Jendi, is overjoyed with the Danish help."We are safe from pirate attacks," he told Reuters, smoking contentedly as he navigated the vessel weighed down with stocks of sorghum, peas, other vegetables and non-food items.

"Some areas between Mombasa and Mogadishu are not very safe. We are happy the troops are here to provide security."

After this mission, the Thetis will be sailing back to the northern hemisphere to resume its usual tasks of ice-breaking and monitoring fishing fleets.

A Danish sniper in his mid-20s keeping a watchful eye from the deck of the Fade 1 had a message for any pirates who tried to interfere with their important work.

"We will shoot at their engine to show them they are not wanted here," he said. "We're not interested in killing them."