Somali Relief Ship Shelled, Turns Back
MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) _ A shell struck a U.N.-chartered ship laden with food for the starving as it approached Mogadishu’s port on Tuesday, sending the vessel back out to sea with its precious cargo.
No casualties were reported aboard the ship, but the incident was the latest - and one of the most serious - setbacks in an international effort to save an estimated 2 million famished Somalis.
Relief officials thought they had successfully negotiated Monday with two warlords controlling Mogadishu for four ships waiting offshore to unload desperately needed supplies.
The Red Cross on Sunday cut from two to one the number of meals it was serving to a half-million people in Mogadishu and reduced the calories of each meal from 1,200 to 600. The arrival of the relief ships would have changed that.
″We could have immediately brought the rations up to 100 percent and begun feeding them two meals a day again,″ said Horst Hamborg, a spokesman for the Red Cross in Mogadishu.
By U.N. estimates, up to 300,000 Somalis already have died of the twin effects of war and famine. The relief effort has been hampered for months by clan warfare, disputes among warlords and looting by their militias and free- lance bandits.
Capt. Carsten Hall Weibrecht of Denmark, port commander for the World Food Program, said the Milos L was ″only 500 yards away when it got hit.″
The shell struck about a yard below the bridge near the crew’s cabins, he said, ″but there were no injuries, and the ship swung around and took off. There was smoke, but I saw no fire.″
The Milos L was chartered by the World Food Program, the Rome-based U.N. agency that gathers and distributes food from member nations. It approached port with its cargo of 9,741 metric tons of grain after U.N. officials thought they had an agreement with two warlords, Ali Mahdi Mohammed and Gen. Mohammed Farrah Aidid.
Shells were then fired from the northern half of the city controlled by Ali Mahdi, said Weibrecht and a U.N. official who demanded anonymity.
The shelling could have been done by one of Ali Mahdi’s nominal allies unhappy with the agreement, said another U.N. official, also speaking on condition of anonymity.
Ali Mahdi and Aidid have agreed to share equally a portion of all the food unloaded from ships at the port, but little food has reached Ali Mahdi’s half of the city in about a month.
U.N. truck convoys carrying food to Ali Mahdi in northern Mogadishu have been routinely hijacked or looted, and Ali Mahdi recently threatened to shell the port unless his share of the food started getting through.
The Milos L, a Panamanian-flag freighter, was not the first ship shelled off Mogadishu, but was the first to be hit.
Two of the other waiting ships have been stranded for more than a week. The fourth arrived Monday. Three of the waiting ships carry tons of food - wheat, rice, beans, lentils and vegetable oil - and the fourth has supplies for the 500 U.N. troops in the Somali capital.
With the port closed, the Red Cross, United Nations and others have brought food into Mogadishu in a costly airlift, but the planes cannot deliver enough to adequately feed the hungry.
Food is also needed in the country’s interior, where the suffering in some areas is more intense than in the capital.