Ivory Coast rebuilds navy to ward off growing piracy threat

ABIDJAN Tue Jan 28, 2014 12:54pm EST

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Ivory Coast is adding around 40 new vessels to its depleted navy as it confronts a growing threat from pirates in the Gulf of Guinea, the country's defense minister said on Tuesday.

Attacks on commercial vessels off the coast of oil-rich West Africa jumped by a third last year. The first known hijacking of a vessel in Ivory Coast territorial waters occurred late in 2012. Similar attacks followed.

"These vessels will provide security on our rivers, the lagoon and at sea," Defence Minister Paul Koffi Koffi said. "They will fight piracy, infiltration and illicit trafficking and will be managed by the navy."

Ivory Coast's navy was seriously damaged by 10 years of political upheaval that culminated in a brief civil war in 2011. Efforts to rebuild it have been hampered by a United Nations-imposed embargo on weapons imports.

However, the UN has approved the purchase of the new vessels, Koffi Koffi told Reuters, and some of them have already arrived. The order was placed with France's Raidco Marine and includes around 30 inflatable speed launches. The rest are 9- to 12-metre craft and 33-metre patrol boats.

The minister declined to say how much Ivory Coast was paying for the vessels. Lorient-based Raidco Marine did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

"I can tell you that right now we have practically nothing," Koffi Koffi said.

The new vessels are due to be managed by the navy but will also be used by the police and gendarmerie.

(Reporting by Joe Bavier; Editing by Larry King)

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