The French Navy Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) ship FS Dixmude docked in Cape Town yesterday, accompanied by the anti-submarine frigate FS Georges Leygues.
The two Marine Nationale vessels arrived in Table Bay Harbour yesterday morning for what been described by the French Navy as “bilateral cooperation and defence diplomacy”.
They are operating as the Jean D’Arc Mission, which is a training deployment for officers-to-be and concludes their curriculum at the naval academy. The sea deployment rounds of their naval academy training and allows them to put their theoretical knowledge into practise.
Asked about their five-day visit to Cape Town, Captain Guillaume Goutay, Commanding Officer of Dixmude, replied that they were in South Africa to work with the SA Navy on anti-submarine warfare and anti-surface warfare exercises.
Escorted by the frigate, Dixmude left Toulon, France, in March for her five month deployment. After operational amphibious training in the Mediterranean, the Mission for three weeks participated in anti-piracy duties as part of the European Union’s Operation Atalanta. Goutay confirmed that they did not encounter any pirates.
Following their departure from Cape Town, the Mission will visit Rio de Janeiro in Brazil before deploying to the Gulf of Guinea as part of the patrol of French maritime areas overseas.
“We will also one have one South African Navy cadet on board for the two week trip to Brazil,” Goutay added. The cadet will join the other 144 midshipmen (including 21 women) from 16 countries aboard the Dixmude. Many of the cadets rotate between the Dixmude and Georges Leygues during the deployment.
Under Project Millennium, the South African Navy has a requirement for an amphibious transport ship similar to the FS Dixmude. The navy is pressing for two LHD-style 20,000-tonne strategic support ships, very similar to the 21,600 ton Mistral class Dixmude. The LHD is capable of accommodating 16 helicopters, four landing craft and up to 110 armoured vehicles. Living quarters are capable of comfortably accepting 450 troops, while a large hospital is equipped with 69 beds.
While Goutay denied that the purpose of their visit was to market the ship to South Africa, a small exposition is being held onboard. While Mistral class ships have visited Cape Town before, it is certain that members of the SA Navy and government defence procurement officials will take a keen interest in the capabilities the ship has to offer to South Africa in the peace-keeping, disaster support and diplomacy roles.
For both Goutay and the Commanding Officer of Georges Leygues, Captain Jean-Marin d’Hebrail, this is their first visit to Cape Town and they’re looking forward to visiting Table Mountain and sampling the fine wines the Cape Peninsular has to offer.
As Goutay mentioned, “We are French!”