French Navy in Durban ahead of Exercise Oxide


The French Navy is currently in South African waters and there is a chance that when they bid au revoir, an exercise at sea will follow with their South African Navy counterparts.

Although Commander Jean-Philippe Vautier said the exercise had not yet been confirmed, the officers and crew of the helicopter-carrying surveillance patrol frigate La Floreal have been forging French-South African relationships and getting to know the local navy during their six-day port-of-call stopover in Durban.

Based in La Reunion Island, the frigate’s visit underlines the strong links between France and South Africa, with both countries and forces committed to the maritime security of the region.

The ship’s 98-strong complement (14 officers, 65 petty officers and 19 seamen) plan to meet up again with the South African Navy in La Reunion between 11 and 15 December when the bilateral Exercise Oxide takes place. The SA Navy contingent will come from Cape Town.

The exercise involves the joint forces of both countries every two years. The last one was held in Richards Bay in 2015.

As well as getting to know the South African Navy and the Durban area’s French community, La Floreal’s crew have been replenishing their supplies-including groceries, French wine and fuel in the city, ahead of a long 30-day patrol in the French exclusive economic zone.

The French armed forces are permanently deployed in the Mozambique Channel to ensure the security of its citizens and its territories. Their mission includes monitoring illegal fishing, and although there have been no recent incidents, the patrols are maintained to deter illegal fishing boats.

Whether they are operating in the Mozambique Channel or the southern seas, their maritime security role is the same as the South African Navy: carrying out anti-piracy operations and being on the look-out for illegal fishing and acts of pollution.

While piracy was currently “quiet,” there was always a chance that it would resume, said Captain Arnaut Lacote, the deputy defence attache with the French Embassy in South Africa, who was on board La Floreal in Durban this week.

South Africa and France in July 2016 agreed to cooperate on the surveillance of the Marion Islands (South African territory) and Crozet (French Southern and Antarctic Lands archipelago) and France has expressed a desire to cooperate in the surveillance of the Mozambique Channel. The agreement is still pending implementation.

Ahead of La Floreal’s visit to South Africa, the French embassy noted that the city of La Port in La Reunion was “twinned” with Durban back in 2005 with the agreement involving sport and cultural exchanges, economic trade and urban development. Le Port is providing technical and financial support for the city’s Green Corridor and addresses three pressing needs: youth development, economic upliftment and environmental stewardship.

La Floreal heads back out to sea on Thursday. She arrived in Durban on 7 October. She called on Cape Town in May this year after a period of maintenance and overhaul work.

Built by the Saint-Nazaire shipyards and armed in Lorient by DCNS, the Floréal and Nivôse frigates entered service in 1992. These vessels are 93.5 meters long and have a beam of 14 meters, with a displacement of 2,950 tons. Armament includes a 100 mm CADAM gun and two F2 20mm guns. A Panther anti-submarine helicopter is aboard La Floréal for her current patrol.