* Private security to help French shippers better compete -
* French-flagged oil tankers needed to secure oil supplies
PARIS Dec 3 France will allow private security
forces to protect its shipping fleet against the threat of
piracy, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said in an interview
published on Tuesday.
France is one of the main contributors to an international
naval force that patrols the waters off Somalia in the Gulf of
Aden and the Indian Ocean to foil pirate attacks.
Ayrault said the move would put the French shipping fleet on
a better footing with European competitors already allowed to
use private security.
"We will allow recourse to private teams capable of
complementing the navy's missions," Ayrault said in an interview
with Ouest France regional newspaper. "There has been a strong
appeal from shipowners and we have heard it."
Countries that allow the deployment of private armed
security teams on their flagged vessels include Britain, Germany
and the United States.
While onboard security has become an integral part of the
shipping business, there are still no industry guidelines or
even agreement among countries on the use of lethal force by
anti-piracy security teams, whether military or private.
Although tougher ship security and western naval patrols has
reduced attacks from Somali pirates, French ships are
increasingly targeted in Africa's Gulf of Guinea, where France
still has strong trade ties with its former colonies.
A French-owned Luxembourg-flagged tanker was hijacked by
suspected Nigerian pirates off the Ivory Coast in February and a
French sailor was seized by pirates in June off the coast of
Togo before he was freed in a rescue operation.
Ayrault also said that France needed to be able to import
petrol with French-owned tanker fleets in order to ensure the
security of its energy supplies.
"The challenge today is to require oil importers into France
to do so at least partially under the French flag," Ayrault
"It's fundamental for our energy security. In order to
secure our energy supply, we can not rely entirely on foreign
fleets," he added.