One of UK’s biggest warships helps French test new support ship

The French Navy has joined forces with the Royal Navy to test the power of a new specialist ship FS Garonne.

As informed, during the trial, the French support ship pulled the Royal Navy’s Albion-class amphibious transport dock past the coast of Devon to assess its pulling strength and abilities – as well as support Anglo-French naval co-operation and the Royal Navy’s own emergency procedures.

With HMS Queen Elizabeth deployed and its sister Prince of Wales undergoing maintenance in Portsmouth Naval Base, the next largest British warship HMS Albion acted as the ‘breakdown victim’ to test the Garonne’s towing ability. The unit is 176 meters long, 29 wide, displacing 18,500 tonnes.

The Plymouth-based amphibious assault ship pretended to be dead in the water in the channel – with the Garonne throwing it a line, figuratively and physically.

Garonne is one of four new specialist Loire-class support ships built for the French Navy designed to provide a multitude of services, from supporting diving operations and dealing with pollution in the aftermath of a spillage at sea, to assisting submarines and surface ships, including salvage operations.

Classified as bâtiments de soutien et d’assistance métropolitains – metropolitan support and assistance ships – they’ve also been designed with the ability of towing France’s next-generation carrier due to enter service in the mid-2030s and displacing 75,000 tonnes.

From the British side, the complex seamanship exercise was overseen by the MoD’s Salvage and Marine Operations (SALMO) team which provides salvage, towing, and heavy lift capability.

“Exercises such as this are fundamental to ensuring an enduring seamanship capability between international maritime partners is maintained. This tested HMS Albion’s ability to be towed safely in the event of an emergency,” said David Price, the SALMO representative onboard HMS Albion.

Before participating in the towing exercise, Garonne carried out intensive trials and training to prove her ability to work with NATO’s Submarine Rescue System (NSRS).

The jointly owned UK, French and Norwegian system is capable of diving down to a submarine in distress, docking with the escape hatches and carrying out an evacuation.

Photo: Royal Navy