NAIROBI, Kenya – Somali authorities have arrested four suspects in the hijacking of a U.N.-chartered cargo ship delivering food aid, the U.N. said Tuesday. The MV Rozen, however, was still under the control of four pirates who remained aboard with 12 crew members as hostage, said the U.N's food agency.
The ship had been contracted to deliver aid to Somalia, where around 1 million people are suffering from a drought that hit the region last year. It had just delivered 1,800 metric tons of food when it was seized.
The suspected pirates were arrested after they went ashore to buy supplies, Peter Goossens, the head of the U.N.'s World Food Program in Somalia, said in a statement.
"The arrest is welcome news, but the safe release of the crew and the vessel remains our chief concern," Goossens said. "We very much hope this ordeal will finish soon."
The pirates are armed with AK-47 assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, said Andrew Mwangura, head of the Kenyan chapter of the Seafarers Assistance Program, an independent group that monitors piracy in the region.
"Negotiations are under way to try and secure the release of the vessel," he added. The conditions of the six Sri Lankan and six Kenyan crew members were unknown.
The ship, hijacked Sunday, has been anchored six miles off the coast of the semiautonomous Puntland region in northeastern Somalia, near Bargal.
Three Somali police speedboats have surrounded the boat and a U.S. military vessel is patrolling the area and monitoring the situation.
"We are appealing for the safe return of the crew and the vessel as soon as possible, and for people to respect the need for humanitarian delivery corridors," Goossens said. "Somalia is one of the poorest countries in the world, and there are families whose lives depend on our ability to get food aid through."
The 1,860-mile coast of Somalia, which has had no effective government since warlords ousted a dictatorship in 1991 and then turned on each other, has become extremely dangerous for ships.
Somali pirates are trained fighters, often dressed in military fatigues, using speedboats equipped with satellite phones and Global Positioning System equipment. They are typically armed with automatic weapons, anti-tank rocket launchers and various types of grenades, according to the U.N. Monitoring Group on Somalia.
The bandits target passenger, cargo and fishing vessels for ransom or loot.