The South African Navy’s minesweeper SAS Umzimkulu carried out exercises with the French frigate La Fayette and landing helicopter dock Tonnerre as they sailed out of Cape Town earlier this month.
The French ministry of defence said that the Tonnerre and La Fayette departed Cape Town on 19 April after taking on supplies, and on departure were joined by the Umzimkulu. All three vessels carried out exercises that included navigation at sea.
“These actions at sea complemented the exchanges between the two navies during the stopover which made it possible to share the experience of the Tonnerre in operations in Mozambique, which the South African Navy will visit in a few weeks,” the French defence ministry stated.
“This exercise reinforces cooperation between the two navies. It is also an opportunity for student officers, then on the bridge, to continue their training and develop their skills in the field of group navigation.”
Tonnerre and La Fayette are part of the Jean d’Arc task force, which left Toulon, France, on 28 February and is due to return to the same port in July. Its planned route was to take the force through the Mediterranean Sea and the Suez Canal, the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean via the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait and the Mozambique Channel, the Cape of Good Hope, then the Atlantic Ocean, approaches to Guyana, the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, the Sargasso Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, and finally, the Strait of Gibraltar and the Mediterranean.
When Cyclone Idai hit Mozambique in mid-March, Tonnerre, and the surveillance frigate Nivose, were diverted to Beira, Mozambique, where they delivered humanitarian cargo on 30 and 31 March. Aid from Tonnerre was delivered by an EDA-R (Engin de débarquement amphibie rapide) Roll-on/Roll-off catamaran landing craft and two CTM landing craft. Operations were supported by an Alouette III and two French Army Gazelle helicopters.
Whilst the two vessels were engaged in humanitarian relief operations, La Fayette continued to patrol the Mozambique Channel.
On 12 April Tonnerre and La Fayette arrived in Cape Town to resupply and carry out a visit to South African Navy headquarters in Simons Town. South Africa already holds a regular joint maritime exercise with France, namely Exercise Oxide and French naval vessels make regular ship calls to South African ports.
Following its departure from South Africa, the French task force heads across the southern Atlantic Ocean to Brazil, approaches to Guyana, the Caribbean Sea (Martinique, Colombia), the Gulf of Mexico (Mexico), the Sargasso Sea and the United States before heading back across the Atlantic Ocean via the Azores and finally, the Strait of Gibraltar and the Mediterranean for a return to Toulon in July.