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French frigate departs Cape Town on first post upgrade patrol

The Floreal in Cape Town.As part of a patrol mission to the French Southern and Antarctic Territories, French Navy (Marine Nationale) surveillance frigate Le Floréal made a routine port call to Cape Town from its naval base of Port des Galets in Reunion Island.

Floréal (F730) has just undergone a period of maintenance and overhaul work, with Cape Town being her first port of call prior the commencement of her inaugural post-upgrade patrol.

Operating in the rough waters of the southern Indian Ocean, the frigate (and her sister ship Nivôse (F732) undergo an annual maintenance period, but every three years a more substantial Major Technical Stop (ATM) is undertaken at the CNOI shipyard in Mauritius.

Under the direction of DCNS and STX France, over a period of three months from September to December 2016, Floréal underwent a propulsion and propeller upgrade resulting in an increased speed, improvements to the navigation and communication systems, as well as the hull and bridge benefiting from repairs and painting. In light of the fire aboard sister-ship Nivôse in September 2014, the fire and damage control systems were improved to make them more effective against fires.

Departing Reunion Island on 4 May, Floréal berthed in Cape Town on 9 May and departed on Monday 15 May.

The Commanding Officer, Commander Benoit Deschamps, took office in July 2016 and says that they are taking advantage of the good weather to reach the French Islands in four to five days. Deschamps explained that they approach their area of interest from the south due to the main direction of the depression and bad weather, thus making Cape Town their first port of call.

The duration of their patrol depends on the mission and what activity they find, but they normally stay in the area around two months before returning to Reunion. The two surveillance frigates based at Port des Galets undertake three to four missions per year.

Initially equipped with Exocet MM38 anti-ship missiles, the Marine Nationale found that the missiles were not required as a deterrence against threats in the south Indian Ocean. Of importance for South Africa with islands in the sub-Antarctic Indian Ocean such as the Prince Edward Islands and Marion Island, the French found that for the surveillance mission, physical presence is the deterrence.

“The deterrence is our presence and our capability to be very active at sea, to be effective against piracy, terrorism and other types of illegal traffic,” Deschamps explained.

Thus the missile launchers were removed in 2014, with the davits modified to be able to launch the boats of the Marine commandos. However, the Exocet missiles are able to be reinstalled if required.

During their patrol, Floréal will cross the Prince Edward area. As South Africa was not able to provide officials to accompany the Floréal on her patrol, she will pass on what they detect and see to South Africa.

France and South Africa have an agreement to exchange information about their respective areas of interest. Thus, South Africa will pass information to France when, for example, the SA Navy or Air Force patrols in the Mozambique Channel under Operation Copper.

Deschamps continued: “We can get information via many assets, but for real concrete control, this is done by your ship coming into contact with a fishing vessel, to control suspected activities like smuggling, etc.”

Built by the Saint-Nazaire shipyards and armed in Lorient by DCNS, the Floréal and Nivôse frigates entered service in 1992. These vessels are 93.5 meters long and have a beam of 14 meters, with a displacement of 2,950 tons. Manned by over 90 crew, armament includes a 100 mm CADAM gun and two F2 20mm guns. A Panther anti-submarine helicopter is aboard the Floréal for her current patrol.

The official ship to patrol the French Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) in the southern Indian Ocean, north of the Antarctic, was the Albatross (P681), but she was retired in 2015. Its replacement, the Bâtiment multi-mission (B2M, "multi-mission ship") oceanic patrol ship Champlain (A623) set sail for its homeport in Reunion Island on 2 May and is expected in Port des Galets later this year.

The Champlain is an icebreaker funded by the French National Antarctic Programme and the French Southern and Antarctic Lands (TAAF), but manned by the French Navy.

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