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LIBYA: World Food Program appeals for safe passage after aid ship turned back

March 3, 2011 |  1:04 pm

The United Nations World Food Program said Thursday that it has urgently appealed for safe access to Libya after a ship chartered by the humanitarian aid agency to transport more than 1,000 metric tons of wheat to the eastern port of Benghazi was forced to turn back to Malta.

"This shows the scale of the challenge we face, especially if there is a need to scale up food and other assistance in Libya," Josette Sheeran, the World Food Program’s executive director, said in a statement, adding that the agency was "exploring every possible humanitarian corridor to be prepared in case needs escalate."

Citing media reports, the aid agency said there had been aerial bombings outside the port of Benghazi, and that owners of cargo vessels were reluctant to send their ships into areas where crew members could be endangered or assets damaged.

Sheeran said the U.N. agency had already airlifted high-energy biscuits to the Tunisian border, where thousands of migrant workers fleeing the violence in Libya have flocked in recent days seeking help to get back to their home countries. The agency was trying to get wheat flour into the same area, officials said.

"Our teams are looking at options to build contingency plans and ensure that those who may need food assistance, especially women and children, do not go hungry," Sheeran said.

According to information released by the World Food Program, the organization is launching a three-month, $38-million regional operation to provide food assistance inside Libya. Officials said the operation will also help people who have fled to Tunisia and Egypt, and communities suffering the economic impact of the civil unrest that has wracked the region in recent months.

-- Ann M. Simmons