Air Senegal shuts down operations in RAM row

Fri Apr 24, 2009 7:47pm IST

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* Air Senegal grounds all remaining flights

* Senegalese, Moroccans exchange blame

* RAM pulls out of deal

DAKAR, April 24 (Reuters) - Air Senegal International (ASI) has stopped operations as a row between the Senegalese state and majority shareholder Royal Air Maroc (RAM) has grounded all remaining flights, the Moroccan airline said on Friday.

RAM, which owns 51 percent of ASI and had provided several aircraft, recalled its last plane from the airline's fleet earlier this month, leaving ASI, one of West Africa's few reliable carriers, with just two operating planes.

"Today, Air Senegal International has ceased operations and stopped all flights. This is the inevitable consequence of the situation created by the Senegalese side," RAM said in a statement released on Friday.

"Despite several warnings from Royal Air Maroc, they (Senegal) made decisions that harmed the existence of its national company, its personnel, and its passengers," the Moroccan airline said.

Senegal's transport ministry was not immediately available for comment on Friday.

The Moroccan airline first invested in the airline in 2000 and ASI's first flight was in 2001 but the relationship has deteriorated in recent years.

RAM criticised Senegal for the country's unilateral decision in 2007 to take majority control of the airline, a move that has not yet materialised. RAM also says Senegal owes the company about 4 million euros.

For its part, Senegal has accused the Moroccan company of blocking an audit of the firm ordered by a court in Dakar earlier this month.

RAM said Senegal had refused to accept proposals it made in March, and the Moroccans now want to pull out of the deal in an orderly manner as over 500 jobs are already in danger.

"Royal Air Maroc's planned disengagement should allow the Senegalese state to realise its wish to take control of its national company in the best of conditions," RAM said. (Reporting by Joseph Penney; Editing by David Lewis)

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