• Southeast Asia’s sea security ‘challenging’

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    The commanding officer of a French escort vessel on Thursday said successive arrivals in the Philippines of ships from the United States, Japan and Australia for so-called goodwill visits are “absolutely a coincidence.”

    Having observed the waters of Southeast Asia, however, Claire Pothier said 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. Of course, terrorism is a challenge for everyone around the world right now,” Pothier noted.

    “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,” she told members of diplomatic press during a tour of the warship.

    Pothier said freedom of navigation in Southeast Asia, especially in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea] of which China wants to have full control is important for France.

    “We are, of course, monitoring what’s happening [in the West Philippine Sea]just as we look at what happens everywhere in the world,” she added.

    Le Guépratte, a La Fayette-class stealth frigate of the French Navy that Pothier  commands,  has been added to the list of visitors.

    Docked in Manila since its arrival on Wednesday, it had conducted maritime observation in Southeast Asian waters.

    Pothier said the visit of Le Guépratte, which will leave on Saturday, is not connected to the recent stopovers of ships from other foreign navies.

    The purpose of the stealth frigate’s visit to Manila, according to the French commander, is to reinforce links between the French and Philippine navies and to cooperate on maritime security.

    The warship carries over 200 crew who will be participating in activities with their Philippine counterparts until Saturday “to build camaraderie.”

    Le Guépratte was first commissioned in 2001 and is based in the southern French city of Toulon, home of 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.

    It is currently the escort of the Mistral Class landing helicopter dock LHD Tonerre, forming a task group in charge of training of 120 young officers, including 30 foreigners, prior to their first operational assignment onboard their respective Navy ships.

    The ship, 125 meters in length and 15.40 meters in width, 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 multi-purpose stealth frigates built by 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.

    When asked if the ship also fits 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.”

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