Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Naval escort for UN food ships

HMCS Ville de Québec to fend off pirates:
Defence Minister Peter MacKay confirmed Wednesday that Canada is sending a Halifax-based frigate to waters off the horn of Africa to stop pirates from attacking food shipments bound for Somalia.

The navy has diverted HMCS Ville de Quebec, which left Halifax last month for a 5½-month NATO mission to the Mediterranean and Black seas.

"This will be a crucial mission. The population of Somalia is facing serious food shortages. The World Food Programme has indicated that all current food stocks in Somalia will be depleted by mid-August," Mr. MacKay said at a hastily called news conference at Stadacona Wardroom in Halifax.

Ville de Quebec is already enroute to the region, MacKay said. He indicated its presence will ensure food shipments make it past the gauntlet of pirates that has increasingly been haunting Somali waters.

"Ultimately, lives will be saved," Mr. MacKay said.

The frigate is expected to remain in the area until the end of September.

"When the world calls, Canada steps up and, when appropriate, steps in," Mr. MacKay said.

The UN World Food Programme, the world's largest humanitarian agency, has been pleading for help from the international community to deal with Somalia's piracy problem.

“WFP is grateful for Canada’s leadership in protecting our maritime lifeline from piracy - this is a critical moment when more food is needed for a growing number of hungry,” the agency's country director Peter Goossens said in a news release...

In November, France provided a frigate to escort food shipments into Somalia,

"Then we had a Danish frigate, then we had a Dutch frigate, which escorted ships sailing mostly from Mombasa to Mogadishu. They escorted, I think, a total of something like 27 ships with enough food to feed a million people for six months," said Peter Smerdon, a spokesman for the UN World Food Programme.

But that escort system ground to a halt in late June when the Dutch warship left, he said.

"We have been appealing . . . for anyone to step forward to protect ships carrying WFP food into Somalia, especially now because in the coming months we need to double the tonnages that we bring into Somalia because the needs have gone up. Basically, we aim to feed 2.4 million people by December."

Last year, pirates attacked three ships chartered by the UN agency to carry food into Somalia, Mr. Smerdon said.

While none of the World Food Programme vessels have been taken over this year, he said, shipping companies are reluctant to send large vessels into the area without protection...

In April, a Sea King helicopter from the Halifax-based frigate HMCS Charlottetown took photos after pirates seized a French cruise ship off Somalia.

Ville de Quebec, which is carrying an air detachment from the West Coast, could use its own helicopter to frighten off pirates, said [retired commodore] Mr. Lerhe, who commanded a task group in the Persian Gulf in 2002.

"And then the ship itself has got not only its main armament, but it’s got a boarding party that would be incredibly powerful in dealing with the pirate vessels."

Going from its mission in the Mediterranean and Black seas to the Gulf of Aden would create a "slight increase" in danger for the frigate’s 253 crew members, said Mr. Lerhe, who is also a fellow with the Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute, based in Calgary.

Mr. MacKay said the mission wouldn't put the sailors at any more risk than their previous mission boarding ships in the Med.

"Having said that, pirates, by their very nature, are unpredictable," the defence minister said, noting the Ville de Quebec "will not be going too close to the shore."

The Ville de Quebec left Halifax on July 17 to join the Standing NATO Response Force Maritime Group 1, a contingent of ships drawn from various nations, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium and the United States.

The frigate is still expected to return to Halifax by Dec. 22.


Blogger warhorse said...

Okay, this may be a stupid question, but ... From the reports I've seen, the 'pirates' seem to be just guys with hand-held weapons in small boats. Why does this require a warship? Why can't the WFP or whoever just hire a platoon from a private military company for security?

10:23 p.m., August 06, 2008  
Blogger Will said...

"Why can't the WFP or whoever just hire a platoon from a private military company for security?"

Because they will, in all likelihood, be class A fuckwits like the sort exemplified by Blackwater scum?

7:30 p.m., August 19, 2008  

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