In a surprising turn of events, the French Navy’s Frigate FS Floréal (Pennant Number F730) made an unannounced arrival off Cape Town on November 1, marking the eighth visit by a French warship to Cape Town in less than two years. This unexpected presence generated intrigue, especially given the lack of prior notification compared to the routine announcements accompanying NATO warship visits.
FS Floréal, part of the Floréal Class of light frigates, is stationed at the French naval base on Réunion Island. The vessel, measuring 94 meters in length with a displacement of 2,600 tons, is classified as a Frégate de Surveillance, designed for operations in low-threat environments.
The frigate, constructed using civilian methods and meeting merchant ship standards, reflects a cost-effective approach. This design choice allowed three Floréal Class Frigates to be built for the cost of one La Fayette Class Frigate. Powered by four SEMT Pielstick diesel engines, FS Floréal has a maximum service speed of 20 knots and an impressive range of 9,000 nautical miles at an economical speed of 15 knots.
Armed with a 100 mm CADEM main gun, two GIAT F2 cannons, and two 12.7 mm M2HB machine guns, FS Floréal originally carried MM38 Exocet anti-ship missiles until their removal in 2014. The frigate also houses an AS565 Panther anti-submarine helicopter and features various radar systems for air defense, fire control, surveillance, and navigation.
FS Floréal’s primary mission is to patrol the French Departments of Réunion and Mayotte, the French Austral territories, and the Sub-Antarctic islands in the South Indian Ocean. The vessel, with a crew of 90 and 24 Marines, plays a crucial role in safeguarding maritime territories.
The unannounced visit to Cape Town aligns with FS Floréal’s history of port calls in South African cities such as Durban and Cape Town, where she has participated in naval exercises and conducted patrols in the Southern Indian Ocean. The vessel’s notable involvement includes rescue operations, anti-piracy efforts, and interception of drug-running dhows in the Gulf of Aden.
This recent visit to Cape Town was tied to FS Floréal’s participation in the starting festivities for the second leg of the Ocean Globe Race (OGR) 2023. The race, covering 27,000 nautical miles, follows the traditional route of the original Whitbread Around the World races and includes stops in Auckland, Punta Del Este, and back to Southampton.
FS Floréal, alongside the South African Navy’s inshore patrol vessel SAS King Sekhukhune I, played a significant role in the official start of the Ocean Globe Race. The race, echoing the legacy of Whitbread, brings together yachts with previous Whitbread race experience, fostering maritime camaraderie on the high seas.
While the unannounced visit may have sparked curiosity, it showcased the enduring maritime collaboration and shared nautical history between France and South Africa. As FS Floréal set sail from Cape Town, it left a maritime legacy intertwined with the city’s rich naval heritage and the start of a challenging and exciting leg of the Ocean Globe Race.
Last year, the Floreal frigate participated in an anti-piracy, drug trafficking, arms smuggling mission with the Indian navy on the eastern seaboard of Africa.