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Benin acquires three new coastal patrol craft

altBenin’s navy will soon receive three new coastal patrol boats from French manufacturer OCEA as the country boosts its naval capabilities to deal with a dramatic rise in maritime insecurity along its coast.

The three vessels are named Alibori, Oueme and Zou, according to Meret Marine. Alibori received its armament early last month, paving the way for deliveries to begin.

The three 31.8 metre long coast patrol craft are derived from the 20 FPB 98 Mk I vessels delivered to Algeria between 2008 and July 2011. Their main armament comprises a 30 mm cannon mounted on the bow. They can reach a speed of approximately 30 knots.

Benin ordered the three FPB 98 vessels last year, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Late last year James Knight, the U.S. ambassador to Benin, told Reuters that Benin's government was in talks with France for three patrol boats, to add to the country's two "armed and very fast" 27-foot Defender class vessels given by the United States in 2010.

SIPRI added that Benin received two LH Aviation LH-10 Grand Duc surveillance aircraft from France last year. The Grand Duc aircraft are used to monitor Benin’s coastline and are equipped with GPSs, satellite communications and digital cameras.

The Gulf of Guinea has seen a dramatic increase in the number of attacks on ships, causing London’s maritime insurance market to add Benin to a list of areas deemed high risk for ships. Maritime insecurity puts Benin’s economy at risk as it collects about 100 billion CFA francs (US$218 million), or some 40 percent of government receipts, from port activities each year.

“The menace of and threat posed by piracy is touching the pillars of the economy of both the coastal and land locked states in our region,” said Lieutenant Colonel Abdourahmane Dieng, head of Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) security, during a maritime security conference last month.

"Within West Africa, and the Gulf of Guinea in particular, we can identify a series of trans-border crimes such as hijacking, armed robbery, illegal migration, illicit fishing, toxic waste dumping, human trafficking, illegal drug trafficking, piracy and hostage taking."

With 58 incidents of maritime crime in the first 10 months of 2011, the West African coast is rated in the top ten of piracy hotspots in the world. Last year, the Benin coast had 44 attacks, according to an ECOWAS official.

This prompted Benin's President Boni Yayi to call on the international community to focus on the Gulf of Guinea, according to Dieng. This request led to the provision of U.N. Resolution 2018, which encouraged the states of ECOWAS and ECCAS and the Gulf of Guinea Commission to develop a comprehensive strategy to combat illicit activities at sea.

Benin has been assisted by foreign countries in its fight against piracy. Last year it emerged that France had launched a three-year plan to train local forces and provide surveillance for anti-piracy operations in Benin, Togo and Ghana. In September China provided a grant of four million euros for the purchase of a patrol boat for Benin.

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