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French frigate captures 35 pirates off Somalia

March 8, 2010
tags: ,

Light Frigate Nivose of the French Navy. Photo author Jean-Michel Roche via

Here is a picture of France’s pirate hunter, dubbed a “frégate de surveillance“, which recently hauled in a total of 35 pirates off Somalia. Story from the BBC:

The French navy has captured 35 piracy suspects off Somalia’s coast – hailing it as the most successful mission since EU operations began in 2008. French officials said four mother ships and six smaller boats had been seized in four operations since last Friday. EU forces used helicopters and fired warning shots to capture the pirates, France’s defence ministry said…

The defence ministry said the Frigate Nivose was backed by an Italian vessel and Spanish aircraft during its three-day mission. The ministry did not specify where the action took place, but said 22 suspected pirates were held on Friday, two on Saturday and 11 more on Sunday.

Nivose is a Floréal class frigate, a class of 8 vessels built in the 1990s . Here are the specifications:

  • Displacement-94 meters
  • Length-14 meters
  • Draft-4.3 meters
  • Speed-20 knots
  • Range-10,000 miles at 15 knots
  • Crew-88
  • Armament-2 Exocet MM38 missiles
  • 1 x 100 mm CADAM turret with Najir fire control system
    2 x 20 mm modèle F2 guns
    Hangar for 1 Panther helicopter

We applaud the continued use of such low-cost vessels like Nivose and the Danish Absalon, which appear to be doing better than the usual large missile cruisers, destroyers, and frigates that have been employed on the anti-pirate mission. We have a feeling it might be the sense of superiority the more expensive battleships might feel over their assumed “less capable” sisterships, so the “small boys” feel they have to work harder to prove themselves!

Regardless, well done and vive le France!

21 Comments leave one →
  1. D. E. Reddick permalink
    March 10, 2010 11:45 am

    A bit more information on that pirate attack near India from the Times of Malta.

    Wednesday, 10th March 2010 – 08:43CET
    Navy thwarts pirate attack on Maltese-flagged ship

    Indian navy commandos have warded off a pirate attack on the Maltese-registered bulk carrier Melina 1 off the Indian coast, the navy has confirmed.

    The attack took place over the weekend about 370 kmwest of India’s Lakshwadeep islands.

    “The attack had all the hallmarks of Somali pirates — three mother ships and two skiffs were used.

    The navy despatched elite marine commandos, a coastguard vessel and an attack helicopter when it received a distress call from the vessel.

    The Greek-owned ship was escorted to safety as the pirates fled.

  2. D. E. Reddick permalink
    March 9, 2010 11:55 pm

    Those “India’s Lakshwa deep islands” near to where Somali pirates are reported to have been encountered are truly -close- to the western Indian coastline. Of course, the islands actually do have a differently spelled name – Lakshadweep…

  3. CBD permalink
    March 9, 2010 11:33 pm

    I was thinking about this…according to the info available here and here. The USN’s low-armament, simple frigates are being used intensely, but, it would seem, not off of Somalia. We have no low-end patrols because we discarded them all. Instead of pushing OHP frigates to USCG service once they lost their missiles, which would have been helpful in some ways, they were pushed to foreign navies. Now we have no patrol capacity and our coast guard has a dwindling supply of useful vessels…the OHP-class vessels we do have in the Gulf Coast might as well be coast guard vessels.

    The additional raids off of Madagascar and Indian territories demonstrate the ability of the pirates to adapt to the non-lethal tactics by going farther out, forcing the navies dispatched to the area to spread over more area.

    The more…aggressive tactics used of late are sure to be just the first step. I don’t believe that we will, or should, engage in any sort of warfare on land…but there will be ‘incidents’ between skiffs and the patrol helicopters and ships. When this happens, the choice will be to withdraw, continue with the catch-and-release (or now catch-disable-release) policy or to engage in a more aggressive stance…say, putting holes in a mothership without plucking crews off first. This won’t happen intentionally, but the unwillingness of nations to handle the situation has encouraged many parties to support these raids. The incentives are too great and the drawbacks are too small to compare.

  4. Mike Burleson permalink*
    March 9, 2010 5:34 pm

    Chuck, thank you so much for that comment. We need more unremarkable, cheap and cheerful sloops and corvettes!

    D.E. the range of that attack is very remarkable!

  5. D. E. Reddick permalink
    March 9, 2010 5:04 pm

    Somewhat OT, but it’s an indication of how various navies are finding Somali pirates in the far reaches of the Somali Basin or the western Indian Ocean.

    The News: International

    Tuesday, March 09, 2010

    Indian navy thwarts pirate attack

    NAIROBI: Indian navy commandos thwarted a suspected Somali pirate attack on the Greek bulk carrier Melina 1 off the Indian coast, East African maritime officials and the Indian navy said on Monday. Andrew Mwangura, of the East African Seafarers Assistance Programme, said the weekend attack about 200 nautical miles west of India’s Lakshwa deep islands closely resembled those of Somali pirates.

  6. Chuck Hill permalink
    March 9, 2010 4:04 pm

    WTH is correct that the Floreal class is unremarkable. They may have even been armed cheaply by recycling the armament of their predecessors, the A-69, since they carry the same 100mm gun and apparent;ly early model mm38 Exocets.

    But that is really the point. You don’t need anything special to do this job.

  7. Mike Burleson permalink*
    March 9, 2010 5:58 am

    Solomon, I wouldn’t be surprised! WordPress has been acting crazy, sending regular posters to the Spam folder. Sorry about the trouble!

  8. March 9, 2010 5:45 am

    Mike is something wrong with your feed??? This didn’t hit my google reader until 4:22am on the 9th but its been up for a day…what gives?

  9. March 9, 2010 2:54 am

    Not “vive le france” but….”vive la france”

    I agree totally, the floreal class were very “cheap” & usefull !
    Better to use a cheap warships (corvette, OPV, light frigate) than a 1 billion destroyers or 1,8 billion $ cruiser, for pirate hunting

  10. leesea permalink
    March 9, 2010 1:59 am

    I like the name “sentry frigate” too. With a slight updating of their weapon and sensor suite, what a fine class this would be today?
    P.S. the CSBA possible CONOPS for LCS has some questionable assumptions about logisitics in it. More later.

  11. Chuck Hill permalink
    March 8, 2010 11:35 pm

    Since this has come around to discussion of the LCS again, If what Matt mentioned in breaking news is true:


    “Have you seen this piece on LCS from CSBA?

    “You just have to love the intro on page 2:

    “ ‘At the urging of then-CNO Admiral Vern Clark, both types were designed without passing through the normal requirements process. Thus by not keeping with previous practice, there was no formal a priori understanding of how these ships were intended to be used operationally, or what defined operational requirements they were intended to help meet.’

    Translation — just build me some fast ships and we’ll work out the minor details later as to why we need them and how they’ll be used!”

    That this design never went through the normal requirements analysis, wouldn’t it be a good idea to do it before we buy a bunch more?

  12. Chuck Hill permalink
    March 8, 2010 11:24 pm

    Just a note that the National security Cutter has a range of 12,000 nmi.

  13. D. E. Reddick permalink
    March 8, 2010 10:43 pm


    Neither LCS design can loiter about any place on the globe without frequent replenishment, as they don’t have the legs of many other warships – most especially when compared to vessels such as the Floréal class of “sentry frigate.” Thus the LCS types have very limited deployability, due to their limited range and endurance (without frequent and repeated replenishment support). Yet France’ fleet of austere frigates can hang around (persistently endure) and perform useful functions long after a LCS type of vessel would be wallowing atop the waves high, dry, and empty. The LCS requires frequent replenishment if it ever engages its souped-up, high speed engineering plant. But the three classes of French avisos and light corvettes can remain on station when an LCS would have required two, three, or four UNREPs.


    What in this discussion of ship types mounts a five inch gun? There isn’t a 5 inch gun on either LCS design or the several classes of French corvettes and frigates.

    Both types of LCS are armed with a 57 mm gun (2.2 inch) Bofors gun.

    The French frigates are armed with a 100 mm gun, which equals to a 3.9 inch diameter gun bore.

    Whereas the 127 mm of USN naval guns found aboard CGs & DDGs equals to a 5.0 inch diameter gun bore.

  14. WTH permalink
    March 8, 2010 9:54 pm

    You don’t need to tell me how Floreal is different from either LCS design. If I didn’t understand that I wouldn’t be here discussing the issue.
    About the only positive thing about the Floreal is it’s range.
    Read the wiki and imagine the gnashing of teeth in the USN armchair admiral world if someone proposed a similar ship for the USN. The size of a WWII destroyer with 1 gun and no speed.
    Some quick takeaways:
    What did they want to do?
    Small sized HA missions, gunboat diplomacy and law enforcement
    – that drove them to a helo
    so a small ship that was had endurance and was stable for helo ops.
    – that drove size up to about 3ooo t, whoops, there goes the smaller is better mantra
    according to the wiki the helo is unarmed (dubious)
    – if that is the case, you have a slow ship an and unarmed helo, not very useful.
    It is a ship specifically designed for no/low threat areas
    – those do not exist, and if they do, what do you need an exocet for?
    the missile issue
    – if you want to complain that LCS has no real missile, lets note that Harpoon can be containerized, already operational in STANFLEX modules, so don’t complain that LCS doesn’t have a missile when we haven’t proven or demonstrated a wish for it. There are a whole bunch of tangential arguments here about Harpoon but we don’t need to go down that rabbit hole.
    it has a 5″ gun
    – I’m unimpressed, it was/is their standard Naval gun so it was the lowest cost to put on the ship. The reality of naval warfare today is that you are either OTH with missiles, or in close with guns. 5″ guns are sub-optimal for both of those, they are also sub-optimal for NSFS. Not matched to the actual mission.
    Civilian standards vice Naval
    – LCS began with civilian standards, then was forced to be built to the then new Naval Vessel Rules, causing much of the design/weight/cost problems

  15. D. E. Reddick permalink
    March 8, 2010 6:36 pm


    Here’s how the Floréal class of “sentry frigate” (“frégate de surveillance”) as represented by FS Nivôse is strikingly different from either of the two USN LCS designs:

    Speed: 20 knots (37 km/h)
    Range: 10000 nautical miles (19,000 km) at 15 knots (28 km/h);
    13000 nautical miles (24,000 km) at 12 knots (22 km/h)

    Neither of the LCS designs has this sort of persistence and endurance while on station. These range capabilities are comparable to those of USN Light (CL) and Heavy (CA) Cruisers of WW-II. So, these frigates are performing the traditional cruiser function of the type known as the “Peace Cruiser.”

    And besides that, while the Floréal class carries only a single light helo – these light frigates (or corvettes, or sloops) are armed with a 100 mm Dual Purpose gun along with two Exocet AShM / SSM missiles. The intended missile armament for the LCS program is the failing NLOS which couldn’t hit a target in four of its last six tests.

    For anti-piracy and anti-smuggling operations FS Nivôse appears to be far more suitable to such requirements than something like the overpriced, over-engined, under-ranged, and under-armed USS Freedom which displaces the mass of a frigate and yet is armed like a Patrol Craft (PC).

  16. WTH permalink
    March 8, 2010 5:33 pm

    Mike Burleson said
    “…Perhaps a large corvette? Anyway, a fine class of ship.

    Chuck well put! We need more focused mission ships, not “do it all nothing well” battleships, which are shrinking, not building up the fleet.”

    Mike, come on.

    You applaud a 3000 ton ship that is barely armed and had to be replaced, hence the LaFayette. However you demonize LCS, a 3000 ton ship that defines focused mission, perhaps even willfully marginalizing recent successes.

    You perpetually hang your hat on the news of the moment that may be twisted to tangentially support your narrow view. Your arguments are getting more and more tenuous. Further your arguments are getting so scattered that you appear to be advocating for everything as long as it’s not LCS. You’re undermining whatever argument you’re trying to make.

  17. Mike Burleson permalink*
    March 8, 2010 3:23 pm

    Distiller wrote-“Sloop”

    I was thinking that, but hesitated because of no spaces for troops and landing craft! Perhaps a large corvette? Anyway, a fine class of ship.

    Chuck well put! We need more focused mission ships, not “do it all nothing well” battleships, which are shrinking, not building up the fleet.

  18. Chuck Hill permalink
    March 8, 2010 2:39 pm

    “We’ll disrupt their operations for a few weeks to a month, and even though they’re likely to return, at least for a month, that one group will not be available to attack.”

    Why only a few weeks to a month?

    “We have a feeling it might be the sense of superiority the more expensive battleships might feel over their assumed “less capable” sisterships, so the “small boys” feel they have to work harder to prove themselves!”

    As to why the smaller vessels seem to be better at it, perhaps it is because they are the ships that commonly do law enforce, anti-smuggling, and fisheries enforcement so they view it as their primary job (like the Coast Guard) and they get good at boat ops and boardings. The French don’t have a Coast Guard, so it is ships like these that perform those functions.

  19. D. E. Reddick permalink
    March 8, 2010 2:26 pm

    Stars And Stripes has additional coverage and analysis regarding the new strategy now in effect with the EU NAVFOR’s Operation Atalanta.

    EU navies to go on offensive against pirates
    By Sandra Jontz, Stars and Stripes
    European edition, Tuesday, March 9, 2010

    NAPLES, Italy — European naval forces plan to disrupt pirate operations off the coast of Somalia by hunting down and sinking the pirates’ supply ships, rather than simply trying to defend cargo ships as they transit through the area.

    The Somali pirates use “mother ships” — usually loaded with ammunition, fuel and food — that allow them to operate farther out to sea and attack vessels on heavily used shipping routes, such as the Gulf of Aden and Somali basin.

    Defense ministers from the European Union had to expand the objective of the EU-led Operation Atalanta, which now gives navies the authority to go after and “disrupt” these pirate supply ships, according to British Cmdr. John Harbour, spokesman for the EU Naval Force Somalia.

    “We’re taking the fight to the pirates,” Harbour said. “We know roughly where they’re operating from, and will position our resources to [capture] their mother ships.”

    Pirates often use the mother ship as a staging base while one or two smaller skiffs carry out attacks on transiting vessels. If officials feel they have enough evidence against the pirates, the pirates will be taken into custody and typically transferred to Kenya or the Seychelles for prosecution.

    If there is not enough evidence, the EU will destroy the mother ship and a skiff but leave the pirates a way to return to Somalia.

    “We mean to take them out of the game,” Harbour said. “We’ll disrupt their operations for a few weeks to a month, and even though they’re likely to return, at least for a month, that one group will not be available to attack.”

    The EU’s new, more aggressive plan makes sense, said Roger Middleton, a Horn of Africa expert with the Royal Institute of International Affairs Chatham House think tank in London.

    “I think that considered targeting of mother ships could be a very useful tactic,” Middleton said. “The attacks in the Indian Ocean are reliant on mother ships, so anything that targets these is likely to be more successful than trying to respond to individual attacks.

    Mother ships tend to stay in one area, from which multiple attacks can be launched, Middleton said.

    “Given the great difficulty of protecting shipping in the Indian Ocean, a strategy to target mother ships seems to be a sensible idea,” he said.

  20. Distiller permalink
    March 8, 2010 1:54 pm

    Sloop :-)

  21. D. E. Reddick permalink
    March 8, 2010 1:34 pm


    You need to correct the characteristics you’ve listed from:

    “Displacement-94 meters
    Lenght-14 meters
    Draft-4.3 meters”


    Displacement: 2,600 tons standard,
    2,950 tons full load
    Length: 93.5 metres (307 ft)
    Beam: 14 metres (46 ft)
    Draught: 4.3 metres (14 ft)

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