PARIS, December 17. /TASS/. A total of two crews of Russian naval officers and sailors who have taken training for service at helicopter carriers of the Mistral family will leave France on December 18 aboard the Russian training ship Smolny, a French newspaper said at its website on Wednesday.
The information is classified and the French Defence Ministry turns down vehemently any requests to comment on it, said the newspaper Ouest-France. However, a number of sources confirmed it to the reporters.
The Smolny is due to check out of St Nazaire in the middle of the afternoon, since the minimum level of the tide is minimal in the area, which is known for powerful tides and ebb-tides, at around 14:00 hours Central European Time.
The Russian ship is moored in the section of the port where the water level is maintained with the aid of a flood gate.
Officials at the port of St Nazaire have not confirmed the information of the Smolny’s forthcoming departure. At the time of reporting, it was not featured in the port’s schedule although the arrivals and departures were entered in it through to the end of the first week of next year.
Russian navy men will leave St Nazaire before the New Year holidays, a spokesperson for the company DCNS, which supervised the construction of the helicopter carriers for Russia, told TASS earlier on the same day.
“I can confirm that the Russian navy men will leave St Nazaire upon completion of training,” he said. “This is due to take place before December 31. They will return home aboard the training ship Smolny.”
The spokesman said however that a part of the crew, which had taken a course of training in St Nazaire, might come back to France somewhat later if the French government took a decision on handing the first ship of the Mistral family, the Vladivostok, to Russia.
About 400 Russian navy men arrived in St Nazaire at the end of June to get a drill in operating the helicopter carriers. Under the initial plans, they were to return to St Petersburg for fitting the ship up, after which it was to head for Vladivostok, its port of registration.
The handover of the first ship to Russia was to take place on November 14 but the French side postponed it indefinitely citing the crisis in Ukraine.