At 42,500 tonnes, the Marine Nationale (French Navy) flagship aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle is a considerably large ship – which conventional wisdom would suggest should make it easier for smaller vessels to avoid. Yet, last Friday morning during a routine training operation, the ship was struck by a 10-meter long civilian sailboat.
It is unclear why the sailboat was so close to the carrier, or whether the warship’s course was accidently put in the path of the civilian craft.
“While on a training sortie off Toulon, the Charles de Gaulle was late to detect a ten-metre sailing boat (flying a Polish flag) at a very short distance, shortly before 07:30 AM. In spite of an emergency maneuver to avoid this sailboat and in the absence of reaction from the latter, a collision occurred around 07:30 AM between the sailboat and the hull of the Charles de Gaulle,” the Préfecture Maritime de la Méditerranée (Maritime Prefecture of the Mediterranean) said in a statement.
The carrier was operating around 40 nautical miles (70 kilometers) to the southeast of the Hyères islands. No injuries were reported, and only the sailboat suffered damage, which included the loss of the mast. Only a single person was onboard the civilian craft, the skipper of the Polish-flagged sailboat.
“Two boats from the Charles de Gaulle were used to secure the sailboat and prepare its towing, in difficult weather conditions (sea state 4, 25 knots of wind),” the Préfecture added.
After ensuring that the crew of the sailboat was safe, the Mediterranean Operations Centre located in Toulon ordered a tugboat to tow the sailboat back to the port of Hyères, Naval News reported.
According to multiple reports, a technical investigation is underway, as is systematically done after such an incident at sea involving a French Navy vessel. However, last Friday’s collision should have no impact on the training activities of the Charles de Gaulle, which along with its carrier strike group, returned to its homeport at Toulon in June after a four-month deployment. The carrier underwent a three-month maintenance period and returned to service in late September.
The carrier strike group will next take part in the high-intensity exercise “POLARIS,” a large scale exercise that will involve units of the French Army and French Air Force. As the largest exercise in the history of the French Navy, it will reportedly include nearly 50 percent of the first rank (front line) surface combatants of the French Navy, while allied and partner warships will also take part.
The flagship Charles de Gaulle entered service with the French Navy in 2001. Named for the late French statesman and general, she is the only nuclear-powered carrier completed outside of the United States – as well as the only non-U.S. Navy carrier-vessel that has a catapult launch system, which allows it to operate F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, C-2 Greyhounds as well as Dassault Rafale aircraft. The carrier is expected to serve until 2040 or later.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.