French frigate Floreal visits Cape Town

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On 1 November, unlike all previous visits by NATO warships, an unannounced arrival off Cape Town was the French Navy (Marine Nationale) Frigate FS Floréal (Pennant Number F730), from her home port of the French naval base on Réunion Island.

The eighth French warship to arrive in Cape Town in less than two years, she entered Cape Town harbour and proceeded not to the V&A waterfront, but to D berth in the Duncan Dock, this despite Jetty No.2 being available. She would still be visible to view from the Passenger Cruise Terminal at E Berth.

Laid down in April 1990, launched in October 1990, and commissioned in May 1992, FS Floréal was built by Chantiers de l’Atlantique Shipyard at St Nazaire in northern France. She is 94 metres in length and has a displacement of 2 600 tons. Built as a Patrol Frigate, for operations in low threat environments, FS Floréal is known as a Frégate de Surveillance.

Floreal is the lead unit of a class of light frigate, known as the Floréal Class, of which six were built. As a cost saving measure, she was built to merchant ship standards, and constructed using civilian methods. In this way, such shipbuilding of warships meant that three Floréal Class Frigates could be built for the same cost as just one of the La Fayette Class of Frigate.

She is powered by four SEMT Pielstick 6PA6 L280 BPC diesel engines producing 8 820 bhp (6 580 kW), driving two LIPS controllable pitch propellers for a maximum service speed of 20 knots. Her auxiliary machinery includes three generators providing 750 kW each. For added manoeuvrability ‘FS Floréal’ has an Ulstein bow transverse thruster providing 203 kW. She also has twin rudders and, unusually for a warship, two fin stabilisers.

She is armed with a 100 mm (4”) CADEM main gun, two GIAT F2 cannons and two 12.7 mm M2HB machine guns. Her MM38 Exocet anti-ship missiles were removed in 2014 and were not replaced. She also carries an AS565 Panther anti-submarine helicopter. Her radar systems include air defence, fire control, surveillance and navigation. She has a range of 9 000 nautical miles at an economical speed of 15 knots.

Based at the Port des Galets naval base on Réunion Island, she is designed to patrol the French Departments of Réunion and Mayotte, the French Austral territories of the Îles Éparses around Madagascar, plus the Sub-Antarctic Crozet Islands, Kerguelen Island and St Paul and Amsterdam Islands in the South Indian Ocean. She operates with a crew of 90, plus 24 Marines. The other Floréal Class frigates are based in the French overseas departments of Martinique (two Frigates), Tahiti, Nouméa (New Caledonia), and a second one in Réunion (FS Nivôse F732).

Named after the eighth month of the Republican Calendar, ‘Floréal’ was the second month of Spring, which translates as ‘Flower’. The republican Calendar was short lived, beginning after the French Revolution, and only lasted for 12 years, between 1793 and 1805. It was an attempt to decimalise the calendar, and remove the Julian Calendar, having three, ten day, weeks for every 30 day month. All Frigates in the Floréal Class are named after months in this calendar.

Over the course of her long career, FS Floréal has made many visits to South African ports, especially Durban and Cape Town, as well as a visit to Richards Bay in September 2015 when she was the French naval unit participating in the regular naval Exercise Oxide with the South African Navy, testing interoperability between the two naval forces.

Her visits to Durban have been many, and include October 2014, October 2017, February 2022, and February 2023, with most visits lasting for five days. Cape Town has seen her calling in April 2012, April 2013, March 2015, and May 2017, with most calls being for 6 days. On most occasions, she sails from her South African port visits on patrols down to the Southern Indian Ocean TAAF islands, which can last for up to two months.

Her visit to Durban in October 2017 ended in near disaster, when a huge storm, producing hurricane storm force 12 winds, gusting up to 80 knots, created conditions of mayhem within Durban harbour. Many ships ran aground, including one container vessel that blocked the entrance channel to Durban Harbour, and another container vessel that parted all her wires and drifted down on FS Floréal, collided with her, causing substantial damage to her hull and upperworks. Luckily, there was no damage below the waterline. After patching up, she sailed back to Mauritius for more permanent repairs.

In October 1995, FS Floréal was sent to the Comores to arrest Bob Denard, the French Mercenary, who had staged a coup on the islands. He was arrested without a shot being fired, and returned to France, where he was jailed for 14 months. It was to be the last successful African coup carried out by European Soldiers of Fortune.

In October 2010, the South African yacht Choizil sailed from Dar es Salaam, in Tanzania, bound for Richards Bay. She was intercepted by Somali pirates, and taken back to Somalia. The skipper, Peter Eldridge, escaped with the yacht, but two of her crew, Durban couple Bruno Pelizzari and Debbie Calitz, were taken ashore and held hostage for almost two years, with an idiotic ransom of $4 million (R72.85 million) demanded for their release.

The yacht was spotted by FS Floréal whilst on patrol in the area, and Peter Eldridge was rescued and taken to safety. Sadly, Choizil was last seen hard aground on the Somali coast, and lying derelict, having been stripped bare by locals. Her crew, both from Durban, were taken into captivity.

As well as the yacht Choizil in 2010, FS Floréal was instrumental in the operation to free the two crew of the hijacked yacht Tanit in 2009. Sadly, one of the hostages, both French citizens, died in the operation, as well as two of the pirates holding the yacht.

She has spent a great deal of time operating with the Combined Task Force (CTF) 150 in the Gulf of Aden, interdicting drug running dhows, and resulting in almost 13.5 tons of drugs being captured. She has also been intercepting Somali pirates, including her AS565 Panther helicopter driving off pirates who were attempting to board the Lebanese flagged vessel Princess Sarah.

The arrival in Cape Town of FS Floréal, though unannounced, was for her to participate in the starting festivities for the second leg of the Ocean Globe Race (OGR) 2023, which got underway on 5 November at 14h30 in the afternoon in Table Bay. This leg is to Auckland in New Zealand, and the race follows the traditional ‘3 stops and 3 capes’, 27 000 nautical miles, route taken by the original Whitbread Around the World races, which ran between 1973 and 1981.

The race started from Southampton, with calls only at Cape Town, Auckland, Punta Del Este, and back to Southampton. All 14 yachts, which are participants in the race, have previously taken part on one of the Whitbread races, including the sole South African entrant, Yacht Sterna SA (42). Whilst in Cape Town, the Royal Cape Yacht Club (RCYC) acted as host for all aspects of the race.

Both FS Floréal and the new South African Navy inshore patrol vessel SAS King Sekhukhune I were the official starter and guard ships for the race start, with King Sekhukhune I having the honour of firing the starter gun.

Written by Jay Gates and republished with permission from Africa Ports. The original article can be found here.