A unique link-up between the Royal and French Navies – which saw a British helicopter deploy with a French warship on anti-piracy patrol – has been hailed a success. The frigate FS Surcouf returned to Toulon at the weekend after a three-month patrol of the Indian Ocean with a Lynx of 815 Naval Air Squadron – instead of its usual French Panther – in the first deployment of its type.
Surcouf was dispatched to support the European Union’s Operation Atalanta – a double mission to both eradicate the scourge of piracy and to safeguard shipping delivering aid to Somalia.
A dozen-strong team from 217 Flight – observer/flight commander Lt Mike Curd, pilot Lt Chris Southworth, senior maintenance rating CPO Matthew ‘Cakey’ Eccles and seven technicians, plus two Royal Marines snipers – return to base at RNAS Yeovilton just before mid-day on Friday (8 March).
The highlight of the deployment – for the ship and the Lynx flight – was the capture of a dozen suspect pirates following an attack on the MSC Jasmine after she came under attack from men armed with rocket-propelled grenades.
Thanks to the Lynx, the two suspect boats were located, and afterwards it provided air cover for the Surcouf’s boarding team as they apprehended 12 men. The suspected pirates were subsequently handed over to authorities in Mauritius.
“During the deployment, the Royal Navy Lynx played a full part in everything the Surcouf did – protection of a World Food Programme ship between the Gulf of Aden and Mombasa in Kenya, reconnaissance missions to provide maritime situation awareness along the Somali coast and on the open sea, photographic intelligence, and the rescue of ten Indian shipwreck victims on January 10,” said Capitaine de frégate Hughes Laine, the Surcouf’s Commanding Officer.
“The results of this mission are very positive and Surcouf’s crew are proud to have actively contributed to the fight against piracy.”
Lt Curd – who has regularly blogged about his experiences aboard the Surcouf to give the wider Royal Navy a glimpse into life aboard a French ship – said he and his team had thoroughly enjoyed their time aboard the frigate.
They underwent a 15-week language course to improve their French before joining the Toulon-based frigate.
“Our deployment aboard the Surcouf has been a great opportunity for my team and me to demonstrate the adaptability and operational capability of the Fleet Air Arm is renowned for, as well as improving military relations between the UK and France and the wider European Union,” said Lt Curd.
Capt Hughes Laine agrees.
“From my point of view, the integration of the British detachment has been a success – we used the Lynx helicopter on operations exactly as we would do a French one,” the French officer said.
“I am delighted with the excellent spirit which prevailed between the British and French sailors. This deployment has proven our full ability to work together. It certainly opens the way for future co-operation.”
The unique link-up between the Surcouf and 815 Naval Air Squadron is part of ever-closer Anglo-French co-operation following the 2010 defence treaty between London and Paris.
This weekend the French helicopter assault ships FS Tonnere and the frigate FS George Leygues are in the Solent carrying out amphibious exercises at Browndown, near Gosport.
Next month, the air wing of the Charles de Gaulle – more than 20 Rafale and Super Étendard, supported by 300 personnel – is taking part in Joint Warrior off Scotland, billed as the biggest military exercise of its type.
And later this year, as they did last autumn off Corsica, Royal Navy and French task groups will join forces once again, this time for Exercise Djibouti Lion.
The ultimate aim of all this co-operation is to create a combined Anglo-French force capable of deploying, operating and, if necessary, fighting alongside each other by 2016.
Naval Today Staff, March 7, 2013; Image: Royal Navy