A cargo ship carrying food for poor Somalis refused to leave Kenya on Monday because of rampant piracy, and the U.S. Navy warned vessels to stay clear of Somalia's lawless waters where everyone from aid workers to fishermen have become targets.
The U.N. World Food Program has appealed for international action to stamp out Somali pirates threatening the delivery of humanitarian supplies to the Horn of Africa country, which is trying to recover from the worst fighting in more than a decade.
The ship was loaded with 850 tons of food, but the shipping agency contracted by the WFP demanded the Kenyan government provide security for travel into Somali waters. On Saturday, pirates staged a failed hijack attempt on another WFP boat, killing a Somali guard.
"We need some sort of security to ply into Somali waters ... because they (Somali pirates) are everywhere. Now they are ashore, (and) very far off into the sea. It is becoming too much," Inayet Kudrati of the Motaku Shipping Agency said Monday.
A Kenyan government spokesman did not return calls for comment. Peter Smerdon, spokesman for WFP, said he had no comment on the contractor's security arrangements, as long as they were acceptable to Somali and Kenyan authorities.
Saturday's attack on the aid ship was the eighth this year off Somalia's 1,880-mile coast, which is near crucial shipping routes connecting the Red Sea with the Indian Ocean.
Trained in combat during the anarchy that has gripped Somalia since the 1991 ouster of a dictatorship, the pirates are heavily armed and use speedboats equipped with satellite phones and GPS devices. The bandits target both passenger and cargo vessels for ransom or loot, using the money to buy weapons.
"Although there are coalition forces operating in the area, they cannot be everywhere monitoring every ship that passes the coast of Somalia," the U.S. Navy's Maritime Liaison Office in Bahrain said in a statement. It urged ships to stay 200 nautical miles off Somalia's coast.
In 2005, two ships carrying WFP aid were overwhelmed by pirates. The number of overall reported at-sea hijackings off Somalia that year was 35, compared with two in 2004, according to the International Maritime Bureau.
Piracy is just one of the obstacles to distributing aid to the needy in this nation of 7 million people.
A U.N.-backed government that has been struggling to exert control since 2004 is battling an Islamic movement that its troops defeated late last year with help from neighboring Ethiopia.
Ethiopian soldiers killed one person and injured another Monday after their convoy was targeted by a land mine in Mogadishu, the capital, witnesses said.
It was the latest in a series of explosions aimed at convoys carrying government officials or troops. The government blames the Islamic guerrillas, who have vowed to wage an Iraq-style insurgency until Somalia is ruled by the Quran.
Capital relatively calm
At the end of April, the government declared victory over insurgents and Somalia's long-standing clan rivals in fighting in Mogadishu that drove about a fifth of the city's 2 million residents to flee. The battles killed at least 1,670 people between March 12 and April 26.
Although the capital is relatively calm now, sporadic bursts of deadly violence still erupt.
In Monday's attack on the Ethiopians' six-vehicle convoy, a land mine detonated in front of the first pickup truck, said one witness, Abdi Ma'alin, who was walking nearby.
"The explosion was so huge that it sent volumes of smoke into the sky," Ma'alin said.
The soldiers opened fire in all directions soon after the blast, and controlled the scene for 15 minutes before they drove away, said another witness, Sahal Sheik, who sells sheep at a small market nearby.
"I saw one civilian body lying on the curb, and another with blood on his shoulder running toward the residential neighborhoods," he said.
On Saturday, a bomb exploded near Mayor Mohamed Dheere's convoy, killing at least two civilians but missing Dheere. A bomb attack Thursday targeted the prime minister's convoy, but no one was hurt.