The French Navy’s new ice-breaking and patrol vessel L’Astrolabe started her first ever mission to Antarctica getting underway from her homeport at Port des Galets, in La Réunion, October 12.
L’Astrolabe deployed exactly two months after first arriving to her new homeport from Concarneau, France, where it was built by shipbuilder Piriou.
The vessel and her crew will be supporting the French Polar Institute (Institut Polaire Français Paul Emile Victor – IPEV) and the Dumont d’Urville Station in Antarctica during the austral summer. The ship is expected to reach the Australian city of Hobart by the end of October from where she will carry out five resupply missions to the remote scientific station.
L’Astrolabe is expected to return to La Réunion at the end of March next year.
Ordered in June 2015, L’Astrolabe replaced two vessels as it enters service – the namesake logistic vessel L’Astrolabe (1984-2017) which was chartered by the Austral and Antarctic French Territories (TAAF) and the IPEV to carry supplies to the French Antarctic base in the Adelie Land; and the patrol vessel Albatros (1967-2015), owned and operated by the French Navy which undertook sovereignty and patrol missions in the Southern oceans.
The 72-meter vessel was designed by Marine Assistance and developed by Aker Arctic (Finland). The logistics and patrol vessel is designed to sail continuously in ice up to 60 to 80 cm thick and will be capable of accommodating up to 60 persons on board and carrying up to 1,400 tons of freight.
L’Astrolabe will be a unit of the French Navy registered as a ‘’polar patrol vessel‘’ on the list of the naval forces.
The vessel was built within an unusual partnership between the TAAF, the IPEV and the French Navy established in 2014. This partnership relies on the creation of a public interest group (GIP) involving the TAAF (vessel owner) and the French Navy (vessel operator) under agreements with the IPEV (in charge of Antarctic logistic operations) for logistics and support to scientific bases in the Antarctic Ocean during the austral summer (120 days per year) and for French Navy sovereignty missions (245 days a year).