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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 August 2005, 16:32 GMT 17:32 UK
Somali pirates 'looting' food aid
Ruins left by the tsunami
The ship is carrying food for Somali victims of the tsunami
Pirates who seized a UN-chartered ship carrying tsunami aid to Somalia have started unloading food from the boat, local residents say.

"They have been taking small amounts of food from the ship for the past three days," said clan elder Ahmed Abdi.

The UN's World Food Programme (WFP) says it cannot confirm these reports but says if true, it condemned the "looting" of the food aid.

Weeks of talks have failed to secure the release of the ship and its crew.

A deal was reportedly done 10 days ago but last week, they issued fresh demands, according to the director of the Mombasa-based Mokatu shipping agency, Karim Kudrati.

Price crash

Mr Ahmed said the pirates were using a small boat to unload some of the 850 tons of rice from the MV Semlow, which is moored just off-shore.

Some residents of Haradere town say that so much rice has been unloaded that local prices have crashed.

"Today the price of the market is incredible, and all commodities' prices have fallen down unexpectedly," businesswoman Asha Yusuf told Reuters news agency.

The ship was captured at the end of June east of the capital, Mogadishu, as it sailed from Mombasa in Kenya.

It was carrying food for victims of last year's Indian Ocean tsunami, near the port of Bossaso.

Under the reported agreement, the food was to be distributed to communities in central Somalia, including the home area of the pirates.

The hijackers had initially demanded $500,000 in ransom, but WFP - which chartered the ship - says no money was paid.

The crew comprises eight Kenyans, a Tanzanian and their Sri Lankan captain.

WFP provides an average of 3,000 tons of aid a month to 275,000 people in Somalia.

But its work is hampered by concerns over security.

The country has had no functioning national government since 1991.

The waters off the Somali coast are among the most dangerous in the world, the International Maritime Board says.

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09 Aug 05 |  Africa
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30 Jun 05 |  Africa

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