An international effort to get food relief to northern Ethiopia, announced by President Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev at the Washington summit last month, appears to be in trouble, the chairman of the House Select Committee on Hunger, Rep. Tony P. Hall (D-Ohio), said yesterday.

A ship carrying four United Nations technical experts, who were to examine the suitability and safety of the Red Sea port of Massawa for food deliveries, has turned back after talks in Washington broke down with representatives of the rebel group, the Eritrean Peoples' Liberation Front, Hall said.

Andrew Natsios, of the U.S. office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, said that without such an assessment, ships cannot enter the harbor.

Hall said the rebel group had previously pledged to let the U.N. team into the port and that after discussions broke down, the Danish ship carrying the U.N. team had decided to turn back.

Bush and Gorbachev announced at the June summit agreement to launch an international effort to bring relief to the famine-plagued region in which an estimated 5 million people are threatened with starvation. The announcement came at a time when the Marxist Ethiopian government of President Mengistu Haile Mariam said it was willing to allow food relief to pass through the port, which has been held by the rebels but has suffered extensive damage from government bombing.