France sees continued benefits in patrolling southern oceans


As part of a patrol mission to the French Southern and Antarctic Territories, French Navy (Marine Nationale) surveillance frigate Le Nivôse (F732) made a routine port call to Cape Town from its naval base of Port des Galets in Reunion Island.

France acknowledges the importance of patrolling its large Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) and patrol ships are based around the world where France has an interest. Recognising that not only are regular patrols important, coverage of the entire EEZ is critical as well.

Departing just days before Tropical Cyclone Berguitta hit the southern Indian Ocean, Nivôse encountered high seas prior to her arrival in Cape Town. The Commanding Officer, Commander Pierre Lucas, took office in July 2017 and says that they must maintain a presence and deterrence against illegal fishing by IUU (Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported) boats if the French EEZ is to remain safe.

Lucas notes that in 2000, there were many illegal fishers operating in the area under French responsibility, but now the practice has stopped. “So we continue to provide deterrence and to maintain a presence. It’s a particularly important activity as our fish resource can reduce. The only areas reasonably well stocked are those areas under protection.”

Captain (Navy) Arnaut Lacote, French Deputy of the Defence Attaché in Pretoria, explained that “if you only survey via satellite and never send the actual means to stop the illegal fishers, then it’s useless. You need to be able to follow that and intercept when it’s required.”
“Ideally you need to be there all the time, but we’re limited by means, so we try to go as often as possible.”

As Lucas elaborated, “it’s a difficult mission because if you want a good presence, it’s necessary to have a long presence. So we have a 40 day mission in difficult seas. Cape Town is a good place to rest before going into rough seas.”

Whilst current incidents of illegal fishers is very low, they are very active on the boundary of the EEZ. Thus, if there is no regular presence, the activities of illegal fishers will increase as they return to the area.

Arriving in the Port of Cape Town on Wednesday 24 January, the port call underlines the strong links in the maritime security domain between South Africa and France, a regional stakeholder in the Indian Ocean thanks to its departments in Mayotte and La Reunion Islands.

French armed forces from the Army, Air Force and Navy are permanently deployed on these two islands and assure a French presence in the Mozambique Channel as well as in the French Southern Islands to safeguard its citizens and its territories while participating in the security of the area in cooperation with its southern African and Indian Ocean neighbours.

This is of critical importance to South Africa with islands in the sub-Antarctic Indian Ocean such as the Prince Edward Islands and Marion Island.

An Inter-Governmental Agreement between France and South Africa on cooperation for the surveillance of the South African (Marion and Prince Edward’s Islands) and French (Crozet and Kerguelen archipelago) territories in the Southern Indian Ocean was signed during President Jacob Zuma’s State visit to Paris in July 2016. This agreement allows monitoring and intervening in each other country’s sovereign waters around these distant islands particularly to face the problem of illegal fishing as well as enhancing scientific research of these areas.

A similar treaty between France and Australia allows each country to patrol the other’s EEZ, thus doubling capacity and presence.

However, the South African agreement is still to be implemented, with the French Embassy in South Africa stating that delays in the implementation of Inter-Governmental Agreements are not uncommon.
“Considering the number of administrations involved in the State’s action at sea in both countries, the implementation of this agreement cannot be done overnight and requires a significant amount of coordination work,” they explained, “This does not impact the importance of our cooperation: exercises such as Oxide and exchanges during port calls provide the basis for coordination between our two navies at the tactical level, which will support a swift implementation of the agreement when otherwise ready.”

The Embassy continued that “France also wishes to cooperate in the surveillance of the Mozambique Channel, where all kinds of trafficking – and particularly drug trafficking – are taking place, fuelling organized crime and terrorist groups, and where piracy needs to be prevented. This requires concerted efforts of the navies capable of operating in these waters.”

France and South Africa already have an agreement to exchange information about their respective areas of interest. During their patrol, Nivôse will cross the Prince Edward Islands and will pass on what they detect and see to South Africa. Similarly, South Africa passes on information to France when, for example, the SA Navy or Air Force patrols in the Mozambique Channel under Operation Copper.

Nivôse will depart Cape Town on 29 January and return home to Reunion Island in the first week of March.

Built by the Saint-Nazaire shipyard and armed in Lorient by DCNS, the Nivôse and sister ship Floréal (F730) entered service in 1992. These vessels are 93.5 meters long and a beam of 14 meters, with a displacement of 2,950 tons. Manned by 91 crew, armament includes a 100 mm CADAM turret and two F2 20mm guns. A Panther anti-submarine helicopter is aboard the Nivôse for her current patrol.

A request for comment to the SANDF regarding the implementation of the Inter-Governmental Agreement had not been received at the time of publication.