Coast Guard units team with French Navy to improve relationships

HONOLULU — Personnel from the French Navy Frigate Le Prairial completed a four-day visit today with local Coast Guard units here to improve relationships between France and the United States.

The visit in Honolulu coincided with French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit to Washington, D.C., which was designed to help repair U.S.-France relations. Sarkozy met with President Bush, Congress and several civic groups during a 26-hour visit.

The Le Prairial was in Honolulu from Nov. 5-9 after conducting a two-month maritime surveillance patrol in the Western and Central Pacific. The French Navy had particular interest in fishing violations of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zones of Kiribati, the Cook Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, said officers with the U.S. Coast Guard and French Navy.

Officers from both services remarked on operational initiatives proposed during those meetings.

“The U.S. has a long history of interaction and cooperation with the French and this week we further built upon that spirit of cooperation,” said Coast Guard Capt. Barry Compagnoni, chief of the Fourteenth Coast Guard District’s enforcement branch. “We are excited to move forward with multi-lateral operations and begin operating together on a number of initiatives,” Compagnoni said.

The Le Prairial’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Benoit Rouviere, said the visit helped highlight some operations that both the French Navy and Coast Guard are now doing independently, but may start to do together in the future.

Rouviere said “helicopter flight operations seem to be an area where the U.S. Coast Guard and French Navy can come together right away.”

French officers also visited the crew of the Coast Guard cutter Jarvis, a 378-foot high endurance cutter, and the crew of the cutter Walnut, a 225-foot buoy tender, homeported here.

Helicopter rescue crews from Air Station Barbers Point, stationed in Ewa Beach, practiced landing on the Le Prairial’s flight deck Thursday. The exercise highlighted the inter-operability aspects both services are aiming to achieve.

“We’re performing many of the same kinds of missions right now,” Compagnoni said, “so it’s only natural we expand ways of operating together. Fisheries law enforcement is one of those areas where we see many ways to work together,” Compagnoni said.

The Le Prairial held open houses in Honolulu for the general public and hosted a formal reception, which Fourteenth Coast Guard District Commander, Rear. Adm. Sally Brice-O’Hara, attended.

The Le Prairial is armed with a 100 mm gun, carries four anti-ship missiles, a crew of 12 officers, 59 petty officers and 21 seamen, and has room aboard for 25 commandos. The ship carries equipment and provisions for up to 50 continuous days at sea.

The 307-foot ship was commissioned in 1992.

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