France to allow private security on shipping fleet - PM


* Private security to help French shippers better compete -PM

* French-flagged oil tankers needed to secure oil supplies

PARIS, Dec 3 (Reuters) - France will allow private securityforces to protect its shipping fleet against the threat ofpiracy, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said in an interviewpublished on Tuesday.

France is one of the main contributors to an internationalnaval force that patrols the waters off Somalia in the Gulf ofAden and the Indian Ocean to foil pirate attacks.

Ayrault said the move would put the French shipping fleet ona better footing with European competitors already allowed touse private security.

"We will allow recourse to private teams capable ofcomplementing the navy's missions," Ayrault said in an interviewwith Ouest France regional newspaper. "There has been a strongappeal from shipowners and we have heard it."

Countries that allow the deployment of private armedsecurity teams on their flagged vessels include Britain, Germanyand the United States.

While onboard security has become an integral part of theshipping business, there are still no industry guidelines oreven agreement among countries on the use of lethal force byanti-piracy security teams, whether military or private.

Although tougher ship security and western naval patrols hasreduced attacks from Somali pirates, French ships areincreasingly targeted in Africa's Gulf of Guinea, where Francestill has strong trade ties with its former colonies.

A French-owned Luxembourg-flagged tanker was hijacked bysuspected Nigerian pirates off the Ivory Coast in February and aFrench sailor was seized by pirates in June off the coast ofTogo before he was freed in a rescue operation.

Ayrault also said that France needed to be able to importpetrol with French-owned tanker fleets in order to ensure thesecurity of its energy supplies.

"The challenge today is to require oil importers into Franceto do so at least partially under the French flag," Ayraultsaid.

"It's fundamental for our energy security. In order tosecure our energy supply, we can not rely entirely on foreignfleets," he added.

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