Above: The French frigate Vendemiaire, in Sydney, Australia in 2013. Photo / Saberwyn - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

French Military vessel discovered off Aotea coast

Above: The French frigate Vendemiaire, in Sydney, Australia in 2013. Photo / Saberwyn – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

In a surprise discovery on Sunday evening, a French military vessel was spotted loitering off the coast of Aotea, Great Barrier Island. The ship was discovered by an AIS receiver hosted on Big Windy Hill on the island’s southeast at around 8 pm on April 9th. 

The data transmitted by the ship’s transponder revealed that it was a ‘French warship’ measuring 81 meters long and 10 meters wide.

The transponder also reported the vessel had departed the Devonport naval base on Auckland’s north shore earlier and was headed for Japan. The vessel was traveling at just 7 knots and not observing the sea lanes.

The ship was around 30 miles east of the island when it was discovered, and its purpose for being in the area remains unclear. While it is not uncommon for military vessels to pass through New Zealand waters, this visit was unannounced.

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The Vendémiaire is a light monitoring frigate in the French Navy and is used for maritime surveillance and law enforcement operations. The ship is named after the French Revolutionary calendar month of Vendémiaire, which roughly corresponds to late September and early October.

Vendémiaire is part of the Floréal-class frigates of the French Navy and their main armament consists of an Exocet anti-ship missile system, a 100 mm naval gun, two 20 mm guns, and torpedoes, although it is unclear if it is currently carrying any weapons or missiles.

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Pa Beach Cafe, 82 Blackwell Drive, Tryphena, Great Barrier Island (Aotea)

The Floréal-class also have the capability to launch a Panther helicopter for surveillance and search and rescue missions.

It is not a nuclear-propelled, or neclear-armed vessel.

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Pa Beach Cafe, 82 Blackwell Drive, Tryphena, Great Barrier Island (Aotea)

An intelligence source speculated that the Vendémiaire could be conducting surveillance or intelligence-gathering operations in collaboration with the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF), or it may have sought maintenance support at Devonport.

The source said New Zealand’s nuclear-free policy meant there were a limited number of vessels that could aid Aotearoa, and given the Australian ship has a maintenance contract with Australia’s Babcock & Brown out of Devonport, it made sense to send Vendémiaire.

“Vendémiaire is based out of Noumea, so that’s basically a couple days sailing to head down” they said.

The source would not be drawn on who might want to enter New Zealand waters without notice.

The New Zealand Defence Force has not commented on the presence of the French warship and has referred inquiries to the French embassy.

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