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A unique link-up between the British and French navies, which saw a British helicopter deploy with a French warship on an anti-piracy patrol, has been hailed a success.
The frigate FS Surcouf returned to Toulon at the weekend after a 3-month patrol of the Indian Ocean with a Lynx helicopter of 815 Naval Air Squadron, instead of its usual French Panther helicopter, 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.
The highlight of the deployment - for the ship and the Lynx flight - was the capture of a dozen suspected pirates following an attack on the MSC Jasmine from men armed with rocket-propelled grenades.
Thanks to the Lynx, the 2 suspected pirate boats were located, and afterwards the aircraft provided cover for the Surcouf’s boarding team as they apprehended 12 men. The suspected pirates were subsequently handed over to authorities in Mauritius.
Captain Hughes Laine, the Surcouf’s commanding officer, said:
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 situational awareness along the Somali coast and on the open sea, photographic intelligence, and the rescue of ten Indian shipwreck victims on 10 January.
Lieutenant Mike Curd, Flight Commander for 217 Flight, 815 Naval Air Squadron, said:
The results of this mission are very positive and Surcouf’s crew are proud to have actively contributed to the fight against piracy.
Lieutenant 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.
Lieutenant Curd continued:
Our deployment aboard the Surcouf has been a great opportunity for my team and me to demonstrate the adaptability and operational capability the Fleet Air Arm is renowned for, as well as improving military relations between the UK and France and the wider European Union.
Captain Laine wholeheartedly agreed:
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.
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.