The French Navy patrol vessel L’Astrolabe visited Durban for several days to replenish her supplies whilst on a routine patrol of the Southern Ocean.
L’Astrolabe arrived in Durban on 3 August and departed on the 7th. The French embassy said there was a possibility of a passex (passing exercise) with the South African Navy but this was not yet confirmed.
The 72 metre long ice-breaking vessel (P800) is based at Port des Galets in La Reunion and is used to patrol the French territories in the region, especially to monitor illegal fishing, trafficking and environmental damage. She is also used to restock French and Australian scientific bases in Antarctica and conduct sovereignty missions in the Southern Ocean. The vessel in June carried out a bird survey on Tromelin Island, a French territory 500 kilometres north of Reunion.
This is not the first time L’Astrolabe has visited South Africa. She made her maiden port call in Cape Town in June 2018 before beginning a month long voyage around French territories in the Southern Ocean.
The vessel can carry 1 200 tons of freight and accommodate 60 people. She was built in 2017 by Piriou Shipyard in Concarneau and replaced an icebreaker of the same name as well as the patrol vessel Albatross. She has a helipad and operates a civilian helicopter, with space below deck to accommodate two helicopters.
L’Astrolabe (P800) was built through an unusual partnership between the TAAF (the French Southern and Antarctic territories), the IPEV (French Polar Institute Paul Emile Victor), the French Ministry of National Education, Higher Education and Research and the French Navy.
This partnership relies on the creation of a public interest group (GIP) involving the TAAF (vessel owner) and the French Navy (vessel operator) under agreements with the IPEV (in charge of Antarctic logistic operations) for logistics and support to scientific bases in the Antarctic Ocean during the austral summer (120 days per year) and for French Navy sovereignty missions (245 days a year).
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. 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 which have not been provided with this vital physical presence and deterrence.