Warship’s Visit Bolsters French-Cambodian Ties

Last weekend, French military ship Le Prairial anchored in Sihanouk’s autonomous port for four days The official goal was to strengthen ties between France and Cambodia. Photo: French Embassy in Cambodia

Last weekend, French military ship Le Prairial anchored in Sihanouk’s autonomous port for four days The official goal was to strengthen ties between France and Cambodia. Cambodianess had the chance to visit the ship.

The primary reason of its stay was for repairs and maintenance. It is also “a privileged moment for sailors to rest a bit” said one of the ship’s officers. But the venue of the ship in Cambodia was mainly symbolic of the diplomatic relation between France and Cambodia.

Diverse representation activities took place between the French ship’s crew and the Cambodian Navy. The respective commanders met. The Prairial’s crew showed their Cambodian fellows their military capacities and the way they function and operate. 

Some of the sailors also had the chance to set foot in the city and discover parts of Cambodia in their few free days.

The Prairal is one of six French surveillance frigates. Based in French Polynesia it is called on to operate in all parts of the world.

 “For example, we went as far as Chile a few months ago” said officer Guillaume, who led a visit to the ship but declined to give his family name. The Prairial is currently on a mission in the China sea.

The Commanding cabin of Le Prairial, Sihanoukville, 24th March 2023. Photo: Nicolò Tissier

The vessel was initially a warship, but his main mission is now surveillance, notably exclusive fishing areas.

It is 94 meters long, spread over 3 levels. It has 105 crew, including 15 officers. It has an Aerospatiale AS565 Panther helicopter among its weapons. The most important of these is a 100mm long canon called La Zelee.

As the visit occurred a few hours after the ship’s arrival, it was still settling in. The first replenishments were in progress, of food, drinks, and fuel. Divers went under the hull to check its condition, one of the priorities of all the ship’s stops.

Survival capacities and autonomy of the ship is around 30 days, but fresh food resources are consumed in 10 days.

As the ship’s permanent center is on a Polynesian island, far from other countries, its first stop is always long. “Usually around 15 days” said officer Guillaume. 

“We then try to stop every 5 days, as it is very tiring for the crew”.

Built in the early 90s, the Prairial is one of the most-used ships in the French Navy. 

“During my first year as an officer on the ship, we spent 137 days at sea,” Officer Guillaume said. It’s a long time compared with other ships.

When it visits a port, the ship sometimes receives as a gift from the port a symbolic plaque, thanking them for their visit. The crew keeps them on a dedicated wall. 

The  visit was the first to Cambodia by the French Navy in seven years. The long period, partially due to COVID, increased the symbolic importance. “We’re very happy with this visit” said Jacques Pellet, the French Ambassador in Cambodia.

Commander François Maignan also welcomed Cambodian officers on Monday. “The crew is very happy to be here,” he said.

Frederic Daumas, the French defense attache was also present. 

“In general, there’s two years between visits by the Navy in an allied country. Seven years is abnormal, especially here as France is really present in this part of the world” he said. “I hope the next visit will happen sooner, like in 2025 perhaps.”

“We already have a strong cooperation on land forces. Less on navies, so this is a good occasion to restart it.”

“It is part of the collaboration between our countries and nourishes the very positive dynamic of our relationship” Ambassador Pellet said.

He also said that France wants to increase its presence in the Indo-Pacific region. “Our strategy is to give a particular importance to freedom of navigation.”

On the military relationship with Cambodia, Pellet said: “we want to diversify our relationship. 

“We expressed our wish to cooperate in the future with the new Ream Naval Base, where renovations will be finished in two or three years. 

“We got the assurance that we’ll get an access to it. As the fight against sea trafficking is a concern for both our countries”.

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