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House flags of French shipping companies: Salvage and towage companies

Last modified: 2002-10-26 by ivan sache
Keywords: house flag | shipping company | abeilles international (les) |
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Les Abeilles International

[Les Abeilles International]by Ivan Sache

Les Abeilles International is a French shipping company registered in Le Havre (Normandy). It is a subsidiary of Les Abeilles ('The Bees'), itself the salvage arm of Compagnie Chambon, itself the shipping arm of Groupe Bourbon.

The company was created in 1976 by amalgamation of various French towage companies. The first Compagnie des Abeilles was founded in 1864. At that time, its main activity was harbour operation, the small 'bees' gleaning around the big vessels.

Following the wrecking of the tanker Amoco Cadiz and the resulting oilspill which polluted the northern coast of Brittany in 1978, the French government decided to change the law on salvage and towing of vessels in danger. Vessels in danger of wrecking are now obliged to accept salvage and towing, without bargaining (in the past, there was a direct bargaining between captains of both ships). Since the Navy did not have any vessel able to towel tankers, it was decided to sign a contract with Les Abeilles International, whose ships act upon request of the Maritime Prefecture in charge of the area where a vessel in danger is signaled.

There are currently three Emergency Towing Vessels stationed around the French coast:

  • Abeille Languedoc (160 tons), stationed in Cherbourg, in charge of Channel and North Sea.
  • Abeille Flandre (sister-ship of Abeille Languedoc), stationed in Brest, in charge of the Western Approaches.
  • Mérou (100 tons), in charge of the Mediterranean zone.

Abeille Languedoc and Abeille Flandre have been involved in more than 1,250 operations.

Other vessels of importance are the four tug-supply vessels, in charge of offshore and harbour towage:

  • Seaward Fox (100 tons), in charge of Channel and North Sea.
  • Ailette and Alcyon (65 tons, sister-ships), stationed in Brest.
  • Carangue (85 tons), stationed in Toulon.

The company also owns the multi-purpose polar supply vessel L'Astrolabe (56 tons), stationed in Hobart (Tasmania, Australia).

The house flag of the company (both Abeilles and Abeilles International) is a white rectangle with a red border all around the flag.


  • Company website (also in English)
  • H. Hamon. L'Abeille d'Ouessant ('The Ushant Bee'), Editions du Seuil (1999).

Ivan Sache, 10 June 2001

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