Saturday, May 17, 2008

France sends FSS Mistral to Burma

Updated 2:00am Sunday 18 May

On Saturday France moved one very impressive piece of rescue equipment offshore the Irrawaddy Delta. CNN reports:
French defense and foreign ministry officials said the FSS Mistral, carrying 1,500 tons of food and medication, was expected reach Myanmar "sometime Saturday." They said the French government was "still in negotiations," even though the junta has so far refused to give authorization for it to dock, either in the delta or in Myanmar's largest city, Yangon.

. . . the Myanmar government asked the French to airlift the material through Yangon, "which of course is a nonsense," (France's U.N. ambassador) said. . .

"We have small boats which could allow us to go through the delta to most of the regions where no one has accessed yet," he said. "We have small helicopters to drop food, and we have doctors."

In Yangon, news of the approach of the French ship created an excited buzz among residents who were phoning each other to ask how far the ship was and when it would arrive.
The above CNN report, which has just been updated, provides more details about the mission:

The ship was conducting joint exercises with the Indian navy when it was diverted to deliver aid under so-called Operation Orcaella -- named after the Latin name of a dolphin that lives in the fresh waters of the Irrawaddy delta, he said.

Le Mistral, with some 360 crew on board -- including five doctors -- is carrying the equivalent of 30 planeloads of material, he said.

Ideally, Le Mistral would ferry the aid up the waterways of the flooded Irrawaddy delta using two smaller boats aboard the ship and hand it to humanitarian workers from international aid organizations, Hinden said.

As I have been blogging for the past week, the relief operation should be mounted from naval vessels. Yangoon airport has been found to have limited capacity anyway.

I found more information about the Mistral. She is an impressive ship, one that appears ideally suited to deliver aid to the region. The Mistral is an amphibious assault helicopter carrier and the lead ship of her class.
She is capable of deploying (between 16 and 35) helicopters (depending on type), four landing barges or two LCAC, and 70 vehicles . . . with up to 450 soldiers (900 for a short period). She also features important hospital capabilities, and is able to accommodate a general staff.*
The photo (left and right) show the LCAC. It is a heavy-duty hovercraft for to bringing supplies from ship to shore (apparently France does not actually have any LCACs, but presumably they have other landing craft).

The mistral is described in one article as "the swiss army knife" of the French fleet:

The ship's NATO level 3 hospital . . . has 69 beds (50 for intensive care), two operating theatres which can function simultaneously, a dental unit (doctor plays dentist on this ship) and can send X-rays, electro-cardiogrammes, etc. to land-based hospitals by internet.

But medicine is not its main mission. “This ship doesn't have one,” explains Humeau. “It's a juxtaposition of different platforms: the Swiss army knife of French naval forces,” he laughs. . . .

He takes us down to a vast 900m² empty space of which 850m² can be transformed with panels which slot into the floor to make whatever configuration of rooms the multinational joint force command and control centre needs. “There are 180 plug and play stations down here and we can communicate at a data rate of 10 Megabits/second, compared to 2 Mbps on the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier.”

Massive quantities of aid relief must be delivered to cyclone victims in the Irrawaddy Delta. France has equipped and positioned the ideal platform from which to seriously begin to accomplish this herculean task. Operation Orcaella needs to happen -- whether or not Myanmar grants approval. It's time to start saving lives.
* Photo 1: Wikipedia.

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