Mission Jeanne d’Arc, made up of the amphibious assault ship/landing platform dock (LPD), Mistral, and the frigate, Courbet, called at the Mumbai port between March 29 and April 3, having set sail from the French military base in Djibouti before heading for Vietnam. It is for the third consecutive year that France has deployed this important mission in the Indian Ocean, the China Seas and the Pacific region.
On each occasion, France has chosen to call at an Indian port: Visakhapatnam in 2015 and Kochi in 2016. At the time, it had just carried out an evacuation operation in Yemen in coordination with the Indian Navy, as part of providing Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR), for which our LPDs are among the best in the world, given their cargo capacities and deployment capabilities.
These port calls always give rise to enriching interactions between navies. The 2017 edition was no exception, with numerous reciprocal visits and exercises carried out with our officer cadets. I was able to observe this first-hand alongside Rear Admiral Didier Piaton, French Joint Forces Commander in the Indian Ocean (ALINDIEN). But over the past two years, these calls have acquired a special dimension; they reflect and support the swift development of cooperation between our two countries.
Along with combating terrorism, maritime security has become a priority of our defence and security cooperation.
In fact, it greatly contributes to this cooperation given the threat of maritime terrorism. France has not forgotten the numerous victims the 2008 Mumbai attacks claimed, two of whom were our nationals.
Several concrete examples illustrate this unprecedented dynamic pace: in 2015, our carrier strike group (CSG) with the aircraft carrier, Charles de Gaulle, at its core, docked at Goa as part of our bilateral exercise, “Varuna”. On that occasion, the Indian Navy – one of the few to also possess an aircraft carrier – could train on the naval version of the Rafale, which our CSG forces are equipped with. At the end of this month, the next edition of the “Varuna” exercise will be held, this time off the French coast. Once again, significant assets will be mobilised. In the meantime, India and France have held two high-level bilateral dialogues on maritime security in the Indian Ocean and signed their first White Shipping Agreement on January 18, 2017; the latter’s operationalisation will be a significant step towards more ambitious exchanges and complex cooperation.
We will not rest on our laurels. There are several reasons for this. France has significant interests in the Indian Ocean due to its overseas territory, Reunion Island, which is home to over a million French citizens; its 2.8 million square kilometres of exclusive economic zone (i.e. more than 10% of the Indian Ocean’s surface), and the volume of sea traffic in this zone. Due to this, we have significant means in the Indian Ocean, whether deployed permanently or depending on requirement. India is France’s top strategic partner in Asia and our intention is to work towards making this relation fructify further alongside our other partners in the region such as Australia, Japan, Singapore and Vietnam. We share, in particular, the same values of preserving the freedom of navigation and respecting the international law of the sea.
Therefore, it is both natural and necessary that France and India do more together in the Indian Ocean to serve our shared interests of security. I am convinced that over the next few years, this cooperation will become one of the pillars of the strategic partnership between our two countries. We are ready to take up this challenge.
Alexandre Ziegler is the Ambassador of France to India