LE Guépratte, a La Fayette-class stealth frigate of the French Navy, has arrived in Manila to reinforce maritime security cooperation between the France and Filipino navies, and with its commanding officer saying the freedom of navigation in Southeast Asia is important for France.
“We are, of course, monitoring what’s happening [in the West Philippines Sea]just as how we look at what happens everywhere in the world,” Claire Pothier told members of the diplomatic press corps during a tour of the ship.
The visit is a new addition to the list of visiting ships from the United States, Japan and Australia doing “goodwill visits” in the Philippines.
Just like any other navies that had visited the country, Pothier insisted that freedom of navigation in Southeast Asia – which China wants to have full control over – is also important for France.
But she clarified that Le Guépratte’s visit is “absolutely a coincidence,” and that it is not connected to the recent stopovers of other foreign navies.
The French visit, she stressed, is to reinforce the link between French and Filipino navies and to cooperate in the field of maritime security, following its maritime observation in the Southeast Asia region.
She said the warship has over 200 crewmembers who will be participating in activities with their Philippine counterparts until Saturday “to build camaraderie.”
Having been observing the waters of Southeast Asia, the commanding chief admitted that the region’s maritime security has been “challenging.”
“There is some security challenge that the countries [in the region]have faced – some attacks from pirates or criminal activities,” she said. “Of course, the terrorism is a challenge for everyone around the world right now.”
She added, “I would say the situation [here]is under control from neighboring countries, but still international cooperation is necessary at sea because the maritime space is also huge. So we are very happy to be here and cooperate to contribute to maritime security.”
Le Guépratte was first commissioned in 2001 and is based in the southern French city of Toulon, which is home to the principal French Navy base along the Mediterranean coast.
The frigate is recognized for its versatility and capability to perform a wide range of missions, including humanitarian operations, maritime surveillance, information gathering, covert deployment of special forces and integration into any task force.
Le Guépratte is currently the escort of the Mistral Class landing helicopter dock LHD Tonerre, forming both a task group in charge of the training of 120 young officers, including 30 foreigners, prior to their first operational assignment on board their respective Navy ships.
The ship – 125 meters long and 15.4 meters wide – is equipped with Exocet missiles, anti-surface and anti-air radars, and an embarked Panther Standard 12 helicopter for anti-surface warfare.
Le Guépratte is one of the five La Fayette-class multipurpose stealth frigates built by the French shipbuilding company DCNS, the same group that was recently chosen by Australia to build 12 submarines in a historic contract worth over Aus$40 billion.
Asked if the ship also fits for the Philippine Navy, French Defense Attaché Pierre Mesnier said, “[This is] a deterrent tool. Do you need deterrence or you don’t need deterrence? I cannot answer for the Filipino government.” MICHAEL JOE T. DELIZO