French frigate visits Cape Town


The first-of-class French frigate FS Floréal, has completed its port visit to Cape Town on its standing patrol of the Indian and Southern Oceans.

The visit was timed to coincide with the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) last week. DefenceWeb visited the frigate and received a guided tour by the Chief Engineer, Naval Lieutenant Yannick Gabard.

The six ships in the class are named after months of the Republican Calendar – Floréal, Prairial, Nivôse, Ventôse, Vendémiaire and Germinal. Morocco operates a further two. “We have six ships from this series. This (Floréal) was the first from this series of six and they were built to be in the French territories around the world. This type we don’t have in France,” Gabard said. The “light surveillance frigate” was commissioned in 1992.

He explained that Floréal was home-ported in Reunion and that the other Floréal-class frigates were all based in ports outside France. He gave an example of another frigate of the class, which was based in New Caledonia, in the Pacific.

The Floréal has taken part in counter-piracy activity. In November 2009, the frigate captured a pirate mother ship carrying arms, ammunition and fuel as well as two skiffs some 650 miles east of Hobyo in Somalia and 500 miles to the northwest of the Seychelles. It chased the boats and captured their occupants.

The ship, according to a plaque in the officers’ mess, took part in Operation Azalee, in October 1995, which recaptured the Comoros Islands from French mercenary Bob Denard, who had taken over the island and deposed President Said Mohammed Djohar, who was later reinstated.

Returning to Reunion, Gabard said the ship was mainly involved in anti-piracy patrols, as part of the European Union’s Operation Atalanta. Gabard said he had sailed between October 2011 and February this year protecting World Food Programme (WFP) ships sailing to the Somali port of Bossasso.

Floréal had not encountered any pirates on the four-month patrol but this had been during the monsoon season, when high seas generally reduce pirate attacks.

On WFP protection duties, the frigate would embark a section of armed crewmen on the ship, and keep in radio contact with them. Although the frigate can embark special forces or marine commandos to protect ships, they also have trained crewmembers. “It can be anyone (of the) crewmembers, and they are trained to visit, to go on board to check the cargo,” Gabard said. On the frigate’s most recent patrol they escorted six ships.

Fisheries patrol is another aspect of the frigate’s duties – on its last voyage the frigate inspected a fishing vessel. Lieutenant Gabard went on to say that, “They had a net. It’s illegal if he doesn’t have the fish! If you have one fish, it’s legal.” He explained that many merchant ships keep a fish in the freezer for just such a purpose. The regulation they were enforcing was aimed at protecting fish, especially sharks, from being caught, de-finned and then thrown back into the sea.

The FS Floréal will sail from Cape Town to French territories in the Southern Ocean, including the remote and sparsely populated Kerguelen Archipelago, Amsterdam Island and the Crozet Islands, to undertake fisheries and environmental patrols. Gabard said only a few ships had the requisite certificates to fish in the region. He added that there were also very small islands in the Mozambique Channel that belonged to France, such as Europe Island, which had a tiny population and only recently gained access to satellite television. There are about 30 people on the island. The island is an Important Bird Area (IBA) and is important for sea turtles as well. Gabard said the only policeman’s job included monitoring the turtle population. (The island is also claimed by Madagascar.)

As Chief Engineer, Lieutenant Gabard is responsible for the ship check, which took a week. However, preparations to sail took much longer, because of certificates that needed to be checked. The frigate also requires an annual inspection.

The frigate had also taken on board scientists, who were involved in monitoring the bird populations of a number of islands.

Lieutenant Gabar showed defenceWeb the missile deck, which holds two Exocet missiles, and the aft upper deck, which has two rearward facing 20 mm anti-aircraft cannons, along with two 12.7 mm heavy machine guns on the flying bridge. The ship’s main gun is a 100 mm cannon forward of the main superstructure, which can be used against ships, aircraft and coastal targets, depending on the ammunition. Gabard explained the gun can fire single shots or automatically and is used on automatic fire combined with air bursts when firing in the anti-aircraft role. Despite its versatility, it will be replaced by a newer 76 mm system.

The ship’s helicopter is a Eurocopter AS 565MA Panther, which has been operated successfully by other ships of the Floréal class, such as the FS Nivôse during Exercise Oxide held jointly with South Africa.