Getting food ships past Somalian pirates
Attacks at sea force a UN aid agency to rely on naval guards.
HMCS Ville de Québec, NEAR SOMALIA
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For two days, the tall, blond Canadian commander has escorted a rusty cargo ship through the most dangerous, pirate-infested waters in the world.
As the MV Golina, filled with food for Somalia's poor, approaches the port city of Mogadishu, he remains alert. The Canadian naval frigate gently rocks two miles off the coast. His crew scans for fast-moving skiffs that could launch a suicide attack; the ships' guns are armed and ready.
Until last month, Commander Dickinson's 47,000-ton frigate was stationed in the Mediterranean. His crew is trained to hunt subs. But at the request of the United Nation's World Food Program (WFP), his assignment now is to keep the pirates at bay. He shadows cargo ships full of grain and other supplies as they make the 510-mile journey from the Kenyan port of Mombasa to Somalia.
The WFP is trying to feed more than 3 million people at risk of starvation. Deliveries over land can bring only a fraction of the food needed, and are even more prone to attacks and hijacking.
Three cargo ships contracted by the WFP were snatched by pirates before the international escort service began a year ago. France, Denmark, and the Netherlands have sent warships for short periods to protect the shipments. But there are invariably gaps in the protection as each nation takes up the role, shutting down the vital food pipeline for weeks at a time.
Make my day?
Dickinson says he's there as a deterrent, making sure the pirates know that they will be biting off more than they could chew if they try to board a WFP cargo ship.
Armed with heavy machine guns and assault rifles, his crew is under orders to open fire on anything that comes within 500 yards. In the open sea, the ship's helicopter circles overhead, watching for boats moving too fast to be fishermen.
But his job isn't to seek out and destroy pirates. In fact, on the way to this assignment, he had to ignore his radar when, as he sailed through the Gulf of Aden, it began picking up the locations of recently hijacked ships.