* French to spend $10 million on regional security operation
* Benin, Togo and Ghana to benefit from training, planes
COTONOU, Nov 10 (Reuters)
France has launched a three-year plan to train local forces and provide surveillance for anti-piracy operations in Benin, Togo and Ghana as part of international efforts to curb insecurity from spreading in the oil-producing Gulf of Guinea.
French aid comes after the United Nations Security Council last month pledged to look at ways of tackling the problem, which has long affected Nigeria’s Niger Delta region but has spread, hurting Benin’s shipping industry in particular.
“The increased number of kidnappings and the escalating costs for commercial shipping and extraction of resources are clearly a threat to the growth, development and therefore the stability of countries in the Gulf of Guinea,” Jean-Paul Monchau, France’s ambassador to Benin, said on Thursday.
France has pledged to spend 5.2 billion CFA francs ($10.8 million) on training local forces and buying two surveillance aircraft from French firm LH Aviation, the ambassador said.
The Gulf of Guinea, a stretch of West Africa’s coast spanning more than a dozen countries, is a growing source of oil, cocoa and metals to world markets.
While piracy has not touched the scale of the attacks off Somalia, it is on the increase and navies in the region lack the means to counter it.
London’s marine insurance market has added Benin to a list of areas deemed high risk due to an escalation of pirate attacks, driving up shipping costs and dissuading firms from stopping at the country’s ports.
Analysts say the spike in piracy is partly due to Nigerian gangs moving into neighbouring countries due to pressure at home.
Nigeria, Spain and the United States are also involved in helping Benin try and control the sea gangs.