French aircraft carrier docks at Zayed Port
ABU DHABI // The waters of the Arabian Gulf are a far cry from the French mountains of the Jura, where Mylene is from.
But she works on board the French aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle, which has allowed her to visit many countries.
The 42,500-tonne vessel set sail from Toulon 45 days ago on a three-month mission – named Bois Belleau after a First World War battle fought in 1918 – and its latest port of call is Abu Dhabi.
After a short stop in Djibouti, the 12-storey ship docked in Port Zayed on Wednesday, and will remain there for four days.
A life on the ocean wave seems like a strange job for someone from the mountains, far from the sea. But, said Mylene, the media officer for the carrier air group, “curiosity drove me to it and now I love it”.
She added: “I have got to visit so many countries, which would never have happened if I had stayed in the Jura.”
Some crew members have taken advantage of the stop in Abu Dhabi to arrange visits from their families, said Mylene.
“We’ve been at sea for a while and it can get tiring as the maximum stay in a port is four days, which isn’t much,” she said.
“With intense activities, the crew, staff and pilots are quite tired so four days in Abu Dhabi are of great importance to us,” said Rear Adm Eric Chaperon.
The French navy carrier is visiting the capital as part of its deployment in the Indian Ocean for military exercises with Arabian Gulf countries, to help develop maritime security and safety in the region.
“We are in an area where everyone has interests, so it is essential to be able to meet those interests all together,” said Rear Adm Chaperon. “Maritime security in the Indian Ocean or in the Arabian Gulf is not just the business of the French, Russian or Emirati navy, but of all navies that have an interest in this area.”
He said the focus of the mission was to combat piracy in the Gulf of Aden, fight terrorism and secure strategic maritime sea lanes, such as the Straits of Hormuz and the Red Sea.
“You can’t imagine how many warships there are in the Indian Ocean,” he said. “Russian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, all the European countries, Iranian, the US and all the regional countries’ navies are here and they operate together.”
So far, Task Force 473 has conducted military exercises with Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The UAE and the US are next on the list.
“If we are not able to act together and interoperate, we have a scattered effort instead of a collective one,” said Rear Adm Chaperon. “Piracy is still around and our presence here is of great importance. The Indian Ocean is a strategic area for France.”
The visit to the UAE is the sixth for the Charles de Gaulle since 2001 and it has taken part in many operations in the region.
These included sending fighter jets to Afghanistan two years ago, and a nine-month deployment as part operation Harmattan, the French part of the international military intervention in Libya in 2011.
“It was in front of Libya projecting power and contributing to a real-world operation,” he said.
The carrier has a crew of 2,600, and is equipped with two nuclear reactors, producing the energy necessary to power four 16MW turbines and two catapults for launching planes.
It has 10 Rafale Marine aircraft, the most advanced in France, that are capable of anti-surface warfare, reconnaissance and even of conducting nuclear attacks.
“They can reach 150 knots [300 kilometres] in three to four seconds, with a maximum altitude of 50,000 feet and a top speed of 600 knots (1,200km),” said Lt Commander Mark Bourdilleau. “They can use any kind of missiles and bombs, and operate in all kinds of environments with all air forces and navies in the world.
“What makes them different from ground aircraft is the fact that they have hooks at the back and stronger gear.” These make it possible to land in the limited space on the carrier’s flight deck.
Also on board are nine Super Etendard fighter jets, two Hawkeye aircraft, two EC 725 Caracal helicopters, responsible for combat search and rescue, and two Dauphin helicopters.
The aircraft carrier is accompanied during its visit by the air defence Destroyer Forbin and the anti-submarine Destroyer Jean De Vienne.
“It helps us establish the situation on the ground and it gives us strategic depth to be able to know in advance what we have in front of the Charles De Gaulle,” said Rear Adm Chaperon.