Monday, June 16, 2008

French firm signs deal to combat Somali pirates: CEO

CARCASSONNE, France (AFP) — A private French military firm has signed a contract with Somali authorities to boost security off the country's coast, plagued by high-profile piracy in recent years, the chief executive said Saturday. Pierre Marziali, CEO of the firm Secopex, said the deal would "strengthen maritime business" off Somalia. The deal, estimated to be worth between 50 million to 100 million euros (75-150 million dollars) annually for the next three years, comes in the wake of the hostage-taking by Somali pirates of a French luxury yacht, the Ponant, in April. After a week-long stand off, all 30 crew members were released unharmed, but French special forces swooped on the fleeing pirates, capturing six and retrieving some of the ransom money paid."Our core business is primarily in the US," Marziali told AFP, before adding that the "Ponant affect played a part" in signing the deal with the Somali authorities. According to Marziali, the contract amount will depend on an audit of existing facilities in Somalia, and will be to set up a "unified coastguard, creating a comprehensive coastguard information system" and form a special bodyguard for Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed. "These measures mean we can offer a concrete response to any armed attack," he said, adding that any pirate attack would be met with "a return of fire." "The economic facet of this contract is also important for Somalia, victim not just of pirates but also the victim of huge pillaging of its natural fish stocks off its coastline," the Secopex boss added. His firm was capable of mobilising up to 2,000 people from around 40 trades, including divers, translators, pilots and nurses, he said. Secopex, founded in 2003, is involved in providing private security, bodyguards, and security advice and auditing .The branch based in Carcassonne, southern France, specialises in private military services to sovereign states.

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