French amphibious battle group arrive in Singapore

The Jeanne D'Arc mission is an annual deployment undertaken by French Navy ships over a five-month period.
The Jeanne D'Arc mission is an annual deployment undertaken by French Navy ships over a five-month period.ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

SINGAPORE - Some 30 navy personnel formed a human chain on Friday (June 8) as they passed boxes of canned drinks and other items to replenish the stocks on the French amphibious assault ship FS Dixmude, currently docked at the Changi Naval Base.

But not all were French sailors.

They included British navy personnel who were part of Task force Jeanne D'Arc 2018, a long-term deployment on FS Dixmude, which also serves as a helicopter carrier.

The operational deployment started on Feb 26 and is a practical training course in real-life conditions for 133 French and foreign midshipmen graduating from the French Naval Academy. They were deployed on the French frigate FS Surcouf and FS Dixmude.

The British navy personnel of about 30 sailors are from the Royal Navy, the United Kingdom's naval warfare force, who joined the mission with two Wildcat helicopters on FS Dixmude.

The amphibious deployment earlier included troops from the Spanish Army and 45 soldiers from the US Marine Corps who sailed from Toulon, in France, to Djibouti, on the horn of Africa.

The Jeanne D'Arc mission, which debuted in 2010, is an annual deployment undertaken by French Navy ships over a five-month period.

Commander Christine Ribbe, who is the commanding officer of FS Surcouf, told gathered media on board FS Dixmude that the mission gives the best training for the cadets. "It gives them real training to push them towards their professional career."

French Ambassador to Singapore Marc Abensour said the deployment is consistent with the French proposal to have European navies coordinate patrols in Asian waters to reinforce a rules-based maritime order and to ensure a "regular and visible" presence in the South China Sea.

Mr Abensour, 52, said: "This deployment is a way to demonstrate our commitment to the security of the Indo-Pacific region."

He added that it "is critical for France to be present on a regular basis in this part of the world".

"It is also a deployment which complements our permanent assets in the region and it will improve the opportunities to develop our partnerships in the region."

FS Dixmude and FS Surcouf were also involved in a Passage Exercise (PASSEX) with the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN).

In a statement on its Facebook page on Friday morning, the RSN said: "The exercise was held from June 6 to 7 and saw the ships conduct naval drills such as gunnery firing against a killer tomato target and manoeuvring exercises.

"It was conducted in the southern reaches of the South China Sea, which is part of the international waters where the RSN traditionally conducts exercises."

"This PASSEX is part of the RSN's regular interactions with its wide network of defence partners such as China, India and the US, with whom the RSN has previously conducted passage exercises with."