Cape Town has seen a profusion of visiting foreign naval ships these past few weeks and now it is the turn of the French surveillance frigate Floréal to delight in what the Cape has to offer.
Floréal (F730), based in Port-des-Galets, Reunion Island, is visiting Cape Town as its first port of call since departing on a patrol of French overseas territories approximately 30 days ago.
Floréal’s main action areas are the Indian Ocean (Eastern Africa and Southern Asia) and the French Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) north of the Antarctic. Thus, she is a regular visitor to Cape Town. Having arrived on 6 March, she will be using her short stay to refuel, perform routine maintenance and allow the crew a few days R&R (Rest and Recuperation).
Commander Marc Woodcock, Officer Commanding Floréal, told defenceWeb that they had just endured some really rough seas and cold temperatures whilst performing surveillance in the EEZ of the islands of Kerguelen, Crozet and St Paul and Amsterdam, also known as the Desolation Islands, in the southern Indian Ocean.
These islands, among the most isolated places on Earth, are part of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands and are administered as a separate district. There are no indigenous inhabitants, but France maintains a permanent presence of scientists, engineers and researchers.
The area is known for being rich in the fragile Patagonian Toothfish species and thus the Floréal ventured as far as 50 degrees south to ensure no illegal fishing activities were taking place.
“The temperature went down to approximately 2 degrees Celsius,” Woodcock said, “We can’t go beyond 60 degrees south as it is an international demilitarised zone and warships can’t go down there.”
Of course, fishery patrol is not their main mission. “It is, first of all, sovereignty. Because it is French zones, it is important to show we are there and know what is happening. It is our number one mission. Fishery, EEZ is the economic aspect of it,” Woodcock explained.
Floréal carries out several different tasks such as anti-piracy missions, maritime surveillance, fishing patrols in Austral and Antarctic French economic areas as well as public service operations and the enforcement of France’s international defence agreements.
Woodcock notes that the frigates (Floréal and her sister ship Nivôse which is also based at Reunion Island) are multi-mission vessels and are deployed in various types of operations.
“We have a Panther maritime helicopter aboard and a large boarding team. Also permanent satellite communications and air surveillance radar. Our assets allow us to do all kinds of things, which differentiates us from the patrol boats,” he remarked.
Floréal will resume her patrol on Thursday 12 March and is expected to be back in Reunion in mid-April. The route home will include patrolling French islands and protectorates in the Mozambique Channel.
Although France is not part of the Operation Copper anti-piracy mission in the Mozambique Channel, Woodcock says that they are available to assist should they be close and in international waters.
Floréal is the first vessel of a series of six surveillance frigates of the same class. She was built by Chantiers de l’Atlantique in Saint-Nazaire and commissioned in March 1992. With an overall length of 93.5 meters and breadth of 14 meters, the frigate Floréal displaces 2 800 tons. She is armed with one 100 mm and two 20 mm multipurpose guns and four 12.7 mm browning guns. The Floréal is also fitted with a Eurocopter Panther helicopter. The crew is composed of 98 sailors: 14 officers, 65 petty officers and 19 seamen.
Floréal will be back in South African waters in September this year when she participates in Exercise Oxide 2015, the joint maritime exercise held between the French naval forces stationed at Reunion Island and the South African Navy. The exercise will once again take place in the Richards Bay area. The Reunion Island-based French Navy Amphibious Supply Ship La Grandière”visited Richards Bay in mid-February.