She is no stranger to Cape Town, nor to her mission, but for the French surveillance frigate Le Nivose, her current voyage is one of proud achievement.
On 30 September 2014, Nivôse was steaming toward Mauritius in the Indian Ocean when she was severely damaged by fire which broke out in her engine room and spread to adjacent areas. Fortunately, the frigate’s sister ship Floreal was in the vicinity and was able to assist the fire-stricken ship’s crew in containing the fire. The crew suffered no injuries, but the damage to the vessel was extensive.
Once the fire was extinguished the following morning, the vessel had lost propulsion power, electricity, water supply and air conditioning. Nivôse had to be towed back to the naval base in Pointe De La Galets, La Reunion.
Nivôse paid a week long courtesy call to Cape Town last week during its first operational deployment since she was repaired in Mauritius. For Commander Julien de Saint-Quentin, who assumed command of Nivôse on 24 July last year, bringing the ship back to operational levels has been the highlight of his command.
“I’m very proud of my crew because we are out of a very long refit,” de Saint-Quentin told defenceWeb, “A regular refit is three or four months. This ship’s company hasn’t operated for a year.”
“We retrained very, very hard, our learning curve has been very steep and we’ve reached an excellent operational level.”
Two thirds of the crew were the same as those that fought the fire throughout the night as one third of the crews are rotated every year.
Nivôse experienced no major faults during the first half of her two month patrol of the French Southern and Antarctic Territories.
de Saint-Quentin explained that one of the priorities the 93.5 meter long, 2,950 ton frigate with 108 crew was the protection of French exclusive economic zones (EEZ). The regular patrols are an important deterrent to illegal fishing by IUU (Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported) boats.
The second mission is surveillance of the maritime area and acquiring general knowledge of the area. This includes navigating to the Polar Regions, encountering strong winds and high seas.
France acknowledges the importance of patrolling its large EEZs and patrol ships are based around the world where France has an interest. Recognising that not only are regular patrols important, coverage of the entire EEZ is critical as well.
“If we patrol on the one side (of the EEZ), the IUU just go to the other side,” de Saint-Quentin explained. Thus, the French have a treaty with Australia whereby each country is able to patrol the other’s EEZ. “It's double the presence.”
France is in the process of signing a similar treaty with South Africa, who has difficulty executing regular patrols into the furthest area of its EEZ.