Cape welcome for French naval vessels


The French Navy surveillance frigate Nivôse docked at the Cape Town V&A Waterfront on Wednesday morning, to the delight of the crew.

Home ported at the island of Reunion, Nivôse participated in Operation Atalanta, the EU Naval Force fighting piracy off the Somali coast. Thereafter, she carried out patrols in the Indian Ocean, patrolling overseas maritime areas under French sovereignty

Having spent considerable time at sea, Nivôse will use her time in Cape Town to perform maintenance and repair tasks, as well as to replenish consumable and food stocks. Despite her brief stay, the crew are looking forward to enjoying the hospitality the Cape has to offer.

Nivôse was the first French warship to participate in Operation Atalanta in 2008, fighting the plague of piracy. She has caught more than 80 suspected pirates aboard more than 25 skiffs during her five deployments.

When conducting anti-piracy patrols, the main means to identify pirates is her radar and Infra-Red cameras. Although equipped with a 100 mm main gun and MM38 Exocet missiles, the two 20 mm and two 50 mm guns aboard are the main weapons of choice when confronted with small skiffs and whalers. She also carried a Eurocopter Panther naval helicopter which is used to detect illegal and suspected pirate activity. This is then reported to the ship.

Captain Samuel Majou, commander of FNS Nivôse, explained that before suspected pirates are captured, intense diplomatic negotiations are held to find a country in the area willing to take the suspects. This could be Reunion, Mauritius, Djibuti, Tanzania or any number of other local jurisdictions. Once clearance has been obtained, the suspects are transferred to the authorities in that country. If sufficient proof is not available, the suspects are allowed to go.
“We have identification criteria to differentiate between pirates and fishermen,” Majou said. “If pirates are captured, their skiffs may be destroyed with explosives and the pirates put ashore.”
“If there is more than one skiff, then we will leave one skiff, give them a small engine and enough petrol to reach shore. Generally, they are compliant.” Majou explained.

Not everyone found with weapons are pirates. Often, fishermen will have weapons with them for self-defence. As Majou says, “if no one wants to prosecute, it’s ‘catch and release.'”

The various national and international anti-piracy task forces operating off the Horn of Africa and the east coast of Africa is having the desired effect – Majou says that the phenomenon is decreasing at sea, with commercial vessels suffering fewer attacks during 2012. However, the actual resolution to piracy must be found on land.

After her departure from Cape Town on February 4, Nivôse will head to the French and Australian Southern and Antarctic Areas on a fisheries patrol mission. This will include the provision of support to the scientific missions to Kerguelen, Crozet and Saint Paul French Austral islands. One South-African Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) observer is in transit to Crozet aboard the Nivôse.

In accordance with a treaty between Australia and France, Nivôse fulfils a cooperative fishing police and surveillance operation in Austral and Antarctic French and Australian economic areas. “As a result, Australian Customs Officers and Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) officers embark onboard Nivôse. Thereafter, she will return to Reunion.

France is hopeful of concluding a similar type of agreement with South Africa, whereby joint patrols will be conducted with customs and fisheries officials from each country aboard each other’s vessels. This will ensure that patrols are conducted efficiently and cost-effectively, with no duplication of patrol areas.

Majou says that international agreements such as these can take some time to conclude, giving the five years it took to conclude the Australia agreement as an example.

A day after the Nivôse leaves, on February 5, FNS Mistral, an amphibious assault vessel, will arrive in Cape Town. She too will use this period to perform replenishment and repair activities. Despite having the capability to deploy up to sixteen large helicopters, no helicopters will be aboard as they were left in the Horn of Africa to deploy aboard other French naval assets.

The French Navy make use of repair facilities in Durban and Mauritius, but it is clear that the crews look forward to coming to Cape Town as the preferred destination.