NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) – Somalia’s prime minister called on neighboring countries Thursday to send warships to patrol his lawless nation’s waters after pirates seized a third cargo vessel delivering food aid.

Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi said in an interview with The Associated Press that his government – which has yet to take control of the country – does not have the resources to protect shipping along Somalia’s coast.

Gedi said he would call for a meeting of every country that has an interest in securing Somalia’s shipping lanes to organize an interim force to protect Somalia’s waters.

Somalia’s 1,880-mile coastline is Africa’s longest, and the country has had no effective central government since opposition leaders ousted dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. They then turned on each other, transforming this nation of 7 million into a patchwork of battling fiefdoms ruled by heavily armed militias.

Gedi’s transitional government, formed in late 2004 after lengthy peace talks in Kenya, raised some hope for the Horn of Africa country. But members of the transitional government have been fighting among themselves in recent months and have made little progress in establishing themselves, spending much of their time in neighboring Kenya.

“Since our coast guard disintegrated 15 years back, still we do not have enough forces to protect the waters and the properties traveling in the waters of Somalia,” Gedi told the AP in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.

“I want to appeal to the leaders of the states in the region and the governments who have interests in the waters of the Indian Ocean … to join efforts to bring collective responsibility for ending this very bad piracy,” he added.

The St. Vincent and Grenadines-registered MV Miltzow was stormed Wednesday by six gunmen who forced the ship’s crew of 10 to leave the port of Merka, 62 miles southwest of the capital of Mogadishu, the World Food Program said Wednesday.

Nearly half the total cargo of 850 tons of WFP food aid was on board.

“It is scandalous that a small number of profiteers would once again hijack humanitarian food supplies destined for fellow Somalis,” said WFP Country Director Robert Hauser.

WFP said in its statement that the governor of the Lower Shabelle region, Yusuf Indha Adde, had sent two small boats to pursue the vessel.

On June 27, gunman hijacked the MV Semlow and held the vessel for 100 days before it was released Oct. 4.

The latest hijacked ship was carrying 703 tons of maize, 108 tons of beans and 39 tons of vegetable oil destined for some of Somalia’s most vulnerable people in the country’s Lower Juba Valley, Hauser said.

The MV Miltzow arrived in port Monday after leaving Mombasa, Kenya, three days earlier. Its crew consists of a Kenyan captain, a Ugandan engineer and eight Kenyan crew members.

The WFP suspended food aid to Somalia on July 4 and refused to pay a ransom demanded by the pirates who seized the MV Semlow, but resumed deliveries in August.

“Given the continued insecurity off the coast of Somalia, WFP is looking at various alternative routes including overland from Kenya and through Djibouti,” its statement said. “Shipping companies are currently demanding armed escorts.”

A Somali official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment to journalists, said Gedi’s government was looking into whether the latest hijacking was for some reason specific to the ship’s owners, Motaku Shipping Agencies.

Karim Kudrati, Motaku’s managing director, said he thinks gunmen have been emboldened by the earlier hijackings and by the withdrawal of NATO ships, which had been patrolling along Somali waters.

“People who have a boat, an outboard engine and a gun are setting out to make money,” Kudrati said.

The NATO naval forces have been patrolling the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean to interdict suspected terrorists.

Kudrati said that a WFP contractor in Somalia was in contact with the pirates and was trying to negotiate the release of the two vessels.

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