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Algeria seeks European stealth frigates

ALGIERS, Algeria, Oct. 2 (UPI) -- Italy's Fincantieri shipbuilders find themselves back in the running on a contract to supply the Algerian navy with four advanced stealth frigates in competition, a deal potentially worth $11.6 billion.

A top-level delegation from the Algerian Defense Ministry visited Italy Sept. 12-19 and was given the red carpet treatment by Adm. Salvatore Reja, one of the Italian navy's top commanders.

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The Algerians visited Fincantieri's yards near Genoa where the 5,800-ton, multi-role FREMM frigates are built and other Italian companies involved in the construction of the vessels, including the Rome headquarters of Selex Sistemi Integrati, an affiliate of the Italian defense giant Finmeccanica.

In the Italian capital, the Algerian delegation was received by Gen. Aldo Dinelli, the Defense Ministry's secretary-general, and Adm. Dino Nascetti, director general of naval armaments.

According to Intelligence Online, a French Web site that specializes in intelligence and defense affairs, the Italians were thought to have been cut out of the bidding after it was unveiled in 2008.

"Fincantieri never actually submitted a bid, despite being asked to do so twice by an Algerian committee in the summer of 2008," the site reported.

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But Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi intervened in August and discussed the issue with Algeria's president, Abdulaziz Bouteflika, in Tripoli during the celebrations marking Col. Moammar Gadhafi's 40th year as Libya's president.

Bouteflika allowed Fincantieri to enter the bidding.

The Italians now compete against France's DCNS shipbuilders, Germany's Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems and Britain's BAE Systems, which is offering its Type 23 frigate.

FREMM is a second-generation French stealth frigate, a project launched in 2002 by Amaris, an affiliate of DCNS and the French defense firm Thales, and by Orizzonte Sistemi Navali, an Italian group headed by Fincantieri and Finmeccanica.

Industry sources say that Algeria would like to purchase two frigates, with the other two built in Algeria as part of a program to revive the Mediterranean shipyard at Mers el-Kebir.

The French are pushing their bid hard, but this is thought to have been weakened by French President Nicolas Sarkozy's reluctance to ask Algerian forgiveness for France's colonial past.

Meantime, Algeria's traditional North African rival, Morocco, is scheduled to receive an anti-submarine version of the FREMM in 2013, under a 2007 contract.

Morocco, which is at odds with Algeria over the disputed Western Sahara, decided to upgrade its military forces after Algeria signed a $7.5 billion arms deal with Russia in 2007.

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In 2008, Morocco awarded an $875 million contract for three 2,300-ton multi-mission frigates to Schelde Naval Shipbuilding of the Netherlands. The warships will be built at the company's Vlissingen yards in the southern Netherlands, with delivery scheduled between mid-2011 and mid-2012.

Earlier this month Morocco secured U.S. congressional approval to buy 24 Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Block 52 multi-role fighter aircraft.

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