A report from the French Naval website
says the Panther helicopter and one of the Zodiac inflatable boats were used to affect the rescue off the remote Possession Island
. The unnamed scientist had taken a fall and the expedition medic had done first aid on the victim, but further help was needed.
The frigate FS Floréal, which was in the general vicinity on a fisheries and environmental patrol, responded, as the report said, “With all four engines” to cross the 1,850 kilometres (1150 miles) from its position to the island.
The frigate is part of an active fleet that patrols France’s overseas territories and is home-ported at Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean. Besides having been involved in a pirate capture, the ship also played a part in search and rescue operations after the crash of the Yemenia
airlines Boeing 727 which crashed in the Comoros Islands in 2009.
Digital Journal recently visited the Floréal and I spoke to Chief Engineer Lieutenant Yannick Gabard, who gave a tour of the ship, from his beloved engine room to the bridge and to the missile deck as well as the helicopter. Gabard said:
“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 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 World Food Program 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 crew members. Gabard said:
“It can be anyone (of the) crew members, and they are trained to visit, to go on board to check the cargo.”
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, usually a shark, 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.
As Chief Engineer, Lieutenant Gabard is responsible for the ship check, which takes 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. (And of course, rescue them if they are injured!)
Lieutenant Gabard showed Digital Journal 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 operate automatically. Despite its versatility, it will be replaced by a newer 76 mm system.
An interesting aspect of the ship was a plaque in the wardroom which proclaimed its participation in Operation Azalee
, in which French soldiers overthrew and captured the well-known mercenary, Bob Denard.