DJIBOUTI, ETHIOPIA — FOR SALE: one 40-year-old navy of 16 ships in fairly good condition, including missile boats, minesweepers, fast-attack boats. Quick sale as country no longer has access to sea.
CONTACT: Ethiopian defense ministry, Addis Ababa.
For wealthy would-be admirals and bathtub dreamers, the Ethiopian navy is to be auctioned, ending a proud tradition of seafaring since it raised anchor under Emperor Haile Selassie.
''We were one of the best navies in Africa,'' says Capt. Gabre Yohanes Tsegaye, representative of the Ethiopian navy coordination office, charged with disposing of the ships moored alongside a dusty dock in Djibouti at the mouth of the Red Sea.
Captain Gabre's 16 ships, manned by some 250 sailors, is all that is left of the former 4,000-man Ethiopian navy. It officially ceased to exist when Ethiopia lost its 600 miles of Red Sea coastline and all its ports with the birth of Eritrea as a separate state on May 24, 1993.
Capt. Gabre wears an ordinary shirt and tie; the sailors can no longer wear their uniforms since the navy no longer exists. But his staff still stands to attention when he arrives. ''The ships are all in pretty good condition,'' he says. ''We cannot declare that they are all fully operational, especially with the problem of obtaining spare parts after the break up of the Soviet Union.''
''The main thing now is to sell them.We'll take the best offer but would prefer to sell them all as a package,'' he says.