NAIROBI, Kenya – A ship carrying food for Asian tsunami survivors made its final stop in Somalia (search) on Wednesday, some 100 days after it was hijacked by pirates.
The World Food Program (search) — which chartered the MV Semlow — welcomed the safe arrival of the 10-man crew at El Maan port, just north of capital Mogadishu (search). The Rome-based UN agency, whose Somali operations are based in Kenya, said it had not paid a ransom.
The pirates struck on the night of June 27 by firing automatic weapons at the ship. Within five minutes, at least 15 Somalis had scrambled aboard and taken control of the vessel, marking the beginning of a 100-day piracy saga on the Indian Ocean.
The nervous pirates ordered the ship's crew to identify themselves and asked them a lot of questions as they stole cash and valuables aboard the Semlow, the Sri Lankan captain, S. Mahalingam, told The Associated Press Television News on Wednesday.
"The question that scared me the most was when they wanted to know the religion of people on the ship," crewman Patrick Ogudu, a Christian, said. "I decided to name myself Abubakar, to be in a safe position."
Mid-September, the hijackers allowed the ship and its crew to go to El Maan, with them on board, but on arrival the hijackers raised fresh demands for ransom. Port authorities ordered them out of the harbor on Sept. 22. The hijackers then captured a second vessel carrying cement from Egypt.
The gunmen held both ships off the central Somali coastal town of Haradheere and slipped off both vessels on Sunday as they were en route to El Maan.
In a statement Wednesday, the WFP urged Somali authorities to quickly discharge the food aid, most of which was not stolen, the UN agency said.
The Semlow was carrying 937 tons of rice donated by Japan and Germany for 28,000 Somalis who had been affected by the Asian tsunami, whose force was powerful enough to inundate parts of this Horn of Africa nation.
Following the hijacking, WFP suspended shipments to Somalia on July 4, but resumed them in August.
"This was the first time in WFP history that a ship carrying food aid was hijacked," said Robert Hauser, Country Director of World Food Program Somalia.
Abdirahman Khalif, a spokesman for the hijackers, said Saturday they had been persuaded by elders and traditional leaders to drop their ransom demands.
Piracy along the Somalia coast is common — several ships a month are attacked or hijacked, with valuables stolen and crews held for ransom.
Somalia has had no effective central government since opposition leaders ousted dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. They then turned on each other, transforming this nation of 7 million into a patchwork of battling fiefdoms.