Canadian frigate to escort food aid to Somalia

Wed Aug 6, 2008 1:19pm EDT
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By Daniel Wallis

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Canada is deploying a frigate off Somalia to escort U.N. World Food Program (WFP) ships carrying vital aid and protect them from pirate attacks, the Canadian government said on Wednesday.

"Food supplies are urgently needed in Somalia but deteriorating security has made delivery difficult by land and sea," Canadian Defence Minister Peter Gordon MacKay said in the statement.

"Canada is stepping up to the plate by tasking (the frigate) Ville de Quebec with the role of escorting World Food Program ships to ensure their safe arrival at designated ports."

Canada is seeking formal authorization from Somalia's interim government to escort the WFP vessels into the Horn of Africa nation's territorial waters, the statement said.

The United Nations warned last month that food shipments to Somalia were grinding to a halt as very few vessels were willing to risk entering the country's pirate-infested waters.

The WFP called on governments to provide naval escorts, saying that it had received no offers of naval protection since late June, when a Dutch frigate escorted a WFP vessel safely into the capital Mogadishu.

France and Denmark had also previously provided escorts, and on Wednesday the U.N. agency warmly welcomed the Canadian move.

"This is a critical moment when more food is needed for a growing number of hungry," WFP's country director for Somalia, Peter Goossens, said in a separate statement.   Continued...