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Mistral ship with Russian crew to sail off for test voyage shortly

June 30, 2014, 22:27 UTC+3 SAINT-NAZAIRE
400 Russian sailors arrived in Saint-Nazaire, France, to train in the use and operation of the new helicopter carrier which is under construction at the local shipyard
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Mistral helicopter carrier (archive)

Mistral helicopter carrier (archive)

© EPA/STEPHEN MORRISON

SAINT-NAZAIRE, June 30, /ITAR-TASS/. One of the two Mistral-type ships being built in France for Russia will sail off with a Russian crew aboard for a test voyage shortly, a military source told ITAR-TASS on Monday, June 30.

In the morning, 400 Russian sailors arrived in Saint-Nazaire, France, aboard the ship Smolny to train in the use and operation of the new helicopter carrier which is under construction at the local shipyard. The new craft, the Vladivostok, will be handed over to Russia in October or November 2014.

“Everything goes according to plan. Almost all administrative issues have been resolved with the Saint-Nazaire authorities and the crew will be able to start the training already today. A test voyage is to take place in the very near future,” the source said.

During the training, the Russian sailors will stay aboard the Smolny moored only several hundred metres away from the Vladivostok.

Russian sailors' arrival in France

Their arrival in Saint-Nazaire was a big event, watched by journalists and local residents. “I don’t remember Saint-Nazaire receiving so many Russian sailors at once ever before. This is a big event for us,” military historian Bernard Prezelin, the author of the Combat Fleets of the World, told ITAR-TASS.

He said the contract signed by France in 2011 for the supply of two 1.12 billion euro Mistral ships to Russia had literally become a breath of fresh air for Saint-Nazaire’s shipyards which had run out of orders.

According to Prezelin, there was too much political ado about the deal, especially in the light of the latest developments in Ukraine. “The contract was signed several years ago. Russia fulfilled its obligations and France must do the same,” he said, recalling that Spain, Italy and the Republic of Korea had also competed for the contract with Russia.

It’s noteworthy that the people in Saint-Nazaire are sincerely glad to see the Russian sailors in their town. Laurent Dupont of the city union of entrepreneurs said a special advertising catalogue listing the services offered by local companies, published shortly before their arrival, had been translated into Russian specially for their sake.

France’s National Front has welcomed the Russian sailors’ visit. “The National Front’s branch in Loire-Atlantique warmly welcomes the arrival of 400 Russian sailors who are coming for training in the use and operation of the Vladivostok helicopter carrier, the first of the two ships ordered by Russia,” the party said in a statement.

“The upcoming successful fulfillment of the contract for the supply of the ships despite the pressure from some of the states is regarded by the National Front as a factor that is of great positive value for both the STX shipyards that are building them and for the city of Saint-Nazaire and even more so for the foreign policy of France,” the statement said.

In an exclusive interview with ITAR-TASS, National Front leader Marine Le Pen said France should fulfill the contract with Russia and dismissed U.S. attempts to upset the deal.

Washington advised Paris to suspend the deal with Russia. U.S. President Barack Obama voiced his concern about it in Brussels and raised this issue again at a meeting with French President Francois Hollande in Paris in early June.

However Hollande said the contract to build Mistral-type ships for Russia was being implemented as scheduled and would be fulfilled in October of this year.

The contract signed in 2011 has not been revised and its implementation will be completed in October, Hollande said.

Under the contract, each Mistral ship has to be built by France within 36 months. The first of them, the Vladivostok, is to arrive in St. Petersburg from Saint-Nazaire, France, in December 2014. In St. Petersburg it will be equipped with Russian weapons, military hardware and systems. After that and the crew training, the Vladivostok will sail off to its base in the Pacific Fleet.

The second ship, the Sevastopol, will arrive in St. Petersburg in November 2015 to make a voyage to the Pacific Fleet and join it in the second half of 2016.

The crews for the two ships (each consisting of 177 members) and 60 instructors, who will subsequently help the sailors operate the ships, are being trained by French specialists. The first stage of training began in February of this year … and continued until the end of May. The second stage will take place from June until October in Saint-Nazaire both onshore and onboard the Vladivostok. The cost of training is included in the contract, the spokesperson said.

Apart from these two ships, Russia has also purchased French technology for the combat information control and communications systems.

Infrastructure for the Vladivostok and the Sevastopol will be built by the end of September 2015. Their base will be completed in the Far Eastern city of Vladivostok by the end of December 2017.

On Russia’s insistence, the design of the ships has been changed to make them capable of sailing in northern altitudes and ice-covered seas, increase their dimensions to carry large Ka-28 and Ka-52K helicopters, and to install additional weapons as such air defence systems, rapid-fire artillery guns and large-calibre automatic systems to repel attacks from sea. This will allow the ships to go on missions with fewer escort vessels in tow.

Two Mistral-type ships are now under construction at Saint-Nazaire, France, and St. Petersburg, Russia. A possible purchase by Russia of two more ships from France will be considered based on the performance results of the first two. The shipyard is to build 90% of each of the ships and then they will be floated off to be taken to Toulon for completion.

Russian enterprises are also involved in the project. The Baltic Shipyard laid down the keel of one of the two Mistral ships, named Vladivostok, in strict compliance with the approved schedule. A similar ceremony for the second ship named Sevastopol took place in May 2013.

Mistral landing helicopter carriers will perform four tasks at the same time: receive helicopters, land troops, act as a command post and a floating hospital.

Each ship will carry a group of 16 helicopters. Six of them can be deployed on the flight-deck at the same time. The cargo deck can accommodate more than 40 tanks or 70 motor vehicles.

Russia is buying the French helicopter carrier Mistral with French equipment, including combat navigation devices, but will arm it with its own weaponry. The Mistral ships will carry upgraded Russian Ka-32 Alligator attack helicopters.

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