The French Navy has officially commissioned its newest ice-breaking and polar patrol vessel L’Astrolabe, nine months after receiving it and eight months after sending it on an astral summer mission to Antarctica.
As explained, the French Navy puts it newbuilds through two phases of testing. The first consists of the builder’s and state trials which verify the ship’s systems while the second involves sending the vessel on operations to see if it can perform its designed missions.
L’Astrolabe began her maiden mission to Antarctica on October 12, 2017, getting underway from her homeport at Port des Galets, in La Réunion.
The vessel supported 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 carried out resupply missions from Hobart, Australia, to the remote scientific station and returned home in March.
The vessel was finally commissioned into active navy service on June 25, in a ceremony attended by the French Navy chief, Admiral Christophe Prazuck.
Ordered in June 2015 from shipbuilder Piriou, L’Astrolabe replaces 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 is 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).