The UN World Food Program (WFP) has declared null and void all agreements with Somalia's transitional federal government (TFG) and community leaders to end the hijack of a Kenyan-owned vessel off the coast of Somalia.
In a statement issued here on Friday, the WFP said the hijackers failed to comply with a deal to end the three month saga and release the ship, its 10-man crew and 850-ton humanitarian cargo of rice.
"It is now clear that the hijackers are not demonstrating any meaningful actions towards finding the necessary resolution of this problem," said Leo van der Velden, WFP Somalia deputy country director.
"In the light of their failure to comply with the deal reached this week and the earlier agreement to end the crisis on August 5, we have no choice but to declare that from our standpoint, the agreements reached so far are null and void," Velden said.
The WFP-chartered vessel, the MV Semlow, which was seized by pirates on June 28, had anchored at the port of El Maan on September 19.
After negotiations with representatives of the TFG and the El Maan Port Authority, an agreement was announced on Tuesday evening.
The following day, however, the hijackers issued fresh ransom demands, whereupon the port authority served them with an ultimatum to leave the vessel and allow off-loading of the cargo by 1 p.m. on Thursday.
The deadline passed without response from the hijackers and the ship left El Maan, heading in the direction of Mogadishu, some 30 km to the south.
"WFP demands the unconditional release of the vessel, its crew and cargo. The crew members have suffered long enough and the humanitarian cargo has unlawfully been denied to the people who need it," the statement said.
The WFP also issued a warning to the hijackers not to loot the cargo. "This is humanitarian relief food which is not for sale under any circumstances. Anyone involved in the buying or selling of this food would be committing a criminal act," Velden said.
Gunmen seized the St Vincent and Grenadines-registered Semlow off Harardhere, some 300 km northeast of Mogadishu, while it was carrying rice to assist 28,000 Somalis in the Puntland region whose lives were devastated by last December's tsunami.
On August 5, community leaders and representatives of the TFG along with WFP reached an agreement to allow the release of the hijacked ship.
Under the pact, the elders and community leaders on behalf of the hijackers had agreed to release the ship and allow it to sail to the port of El Maan.
The food was to be handed over to the transitional federal government and the crew and vessel allowed to travel on to Mombasa.
Somalia is awash with some 60,000 militia men and has been without a functioning national government since 1991, which hampered relief efforts to tsunami victims.
The WFP hijacking was the sixth reported piracy incident in Somali waters since March, including one in early June in which a US naval destroyer intervened to save a vessel under attack.
The International Maritime Board has warned of an alarming increase in piracy in Somali waters and has urged ships to avoid the area.