The French amphibious assault ship Siroco has berthed at Lagos in Nigeria for a four day visit as it calls in at several African countries during its journey along Africa’s west coast.
The vessel arrived in Lagos yesterday from Douala, Cameroon. According to the French embassy in Nigeria, the port call comes in the wake of a series of high level exchanges between France and Nigeria, first with the French Prime Minister’s visit to Abuja in May 2009, and more recently following the visit of French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe in November last year. During the visit Juppe pledged to help Nigeria fight extremism and terrorism. In addition, France and Nigeria strengthened bilateral ties during president Goodluck Jonathan’s visit to France on November 23 last year.
It is believed that the Siroco may have assisted a merchant vessel that was attacked by pirates on Monday 110 nautical miles south of Lagos. According to the International Maritime Bureau, armed pirates chased and fired upon a drifting bulk carrier. All crew except the bridge team took shelter in the citadel. Due to the continuous firing the captain and the chief engineer were shot dead.
Nigerian authorities who sent out a rescue team but due to rough seas the Nigerian naval team could not reach the location. The Bureau says a French warship in the area which received the warning broadcast went to the aid of the distress vessel and despatched a helicopter. A boarding team boarded the vessel and escorted the vessel to Lagos port.
The Siroco set sail for the Atlantic coast of Africa on November 15 last year and is scheduled to sail between Senegal and Angola until April this year. She has already taken part in exercises and training with several countries along the way, including the Congo, Gabon and Angola.
The French ministry of defence said that the Siroco conducted training with Gabon between November 27 and December 3. An amphibious unit from the Siroco and 240 men and 40 vehicles from the French 6th Marine Infantry Battalion based in Libreville, and a motorised parachute unit from Gabon, took part in the exercise, which involved deploying a landing unit and evacuating civilians.
The Siroco conducted another exercise in Gabon between January 8 and 12, south of Libreville. The exercise again involved the 6th Marine Infantry Battalion. Puma and Fennec helicopters were also involved in the exercise.
The Siroco called in at Pointe Noire in the Republic of the Congo in late January. During its stop at Pointe Noire, the Siroco’s crew spent three days (January 22-24) assisting in the rehabilitation of the Jean-Felix Tchicaya primary school. The crew also conducted a training exercise with Congolese sailors.
On January 27 the Siroco docked at the port of Luanda on a four-day stay, where its crew met their Angolan counterparts and conducted various training exercises. It’s captain Henri Duparc Fouques met with senior members of the Angolan Armed Forces, discussing military cooperation between Angola and France.
The Siroco’s mission is to ensure security in the waters of the Gulf of Guinea, protect French interests in the region and foster cooperation between the French Navy and navies in Central and West Africa. She is capable of landing and supporting a mechanised armoured regiment of the French rapid deployment force. Her three main missions are the landing of infantry and armoured vehicles on unprepared coasts, mobile logistic support for naval forces and humanitarian relief missions.
The Siroco is 168 metres long and accommodates 244 crewmembers. She accommodates eight landing craft, four helicopters and, on short cruises, up to 900 troops. During her west African voyage, she is carrying 279 people, including 30 officers, 144 petty officers and 105 sailors.