The Charles De Gaulle Returns Home Early: Managing the Coronavirus Impact


By Pierre Tran

Paris – The Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier and its frigate escort were due to arrive at Toulon on April 12, a return to base earlier than expected due to the coronavirus hitting 50 sailors on the capital warship.

“The Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier and its escort will arrive at their home base in the afternoon of Sunday April 12, at the end of almost three months tour of operations in the eastern Mediterranean and the North Sea,” the ministry said in an April 11 statement.

“The first concern of the ministry and the navy is the health of the sailors, their families and our citizens,” the ministry said.

The Charles de Gaulle had been due back at Toulon April 23, before the break out of coronavirus on board the flagship of task force 473.

An April 8 emergency medical test of 66 sailors on the carrier showed 50 had fallen ill with Covid-19, the ministry said April 10. The test led three sailors with the virus being flown April 9 on an NH90 Caïman naval helicopter to Lisbon airport, where they were transferred to a Falcon 900 jet for flight to Toulon military hospital.

The Falcon was adapted for medical flight, with two doctors and a nurse on board.

Three specialist doctors flown out to the carrier attempted to track the infection and limit the spread of the disease.

The carrier sailed from Toulon January 21 on its three-month operation Foch and had stopped over March 13-15 at Brest naval base, northwestern France.

A sailor on a Belgian frigate, Leopard 1, was confirmed March 24 to have contracted Covid-19, while the warship was sailing with the Charles de Gaulle task force, reported B2, a Brussels defense blog. The Belgian vessel, which also docked at Brest at the same time, left the task force and sailed home to arrive March 27. The Belgian crew went into quarantine.

The crew and fleet air arm unit on the French flagship carrier, and the crew of the Chevalier Paul frigate will go into a two week quarantine in military bases, the ministry said. Health and logistics specialists will take steps to deliver the “best conditions for health and accommodations.”

Further tests will be made during the quarantine and before the sailors return home.

A 1,200-strong crew sailed the Charles de Gaulle, with a further 560 personnel to command the task force, and fly and support the 18 Rafale fighter jets, two Hawkeye spy planes and three helicopters.

Some 195 sailors sailed the Chevalier Paul, a Horizon class air defense frigate.

Other ships in the naval task force – the Somme fleet auxiliary tanker and La Motte-Picquet anti-submarine frigate – will sail to Brest after a health check on board.

The fleet air arm will send the aircraft and their crew to their bases, with helicopters to Hyères, southern France, Hawkeyes to Lann Bihoué and Rafales to Landivisiau. The latter two airbases are in northwestern France.

In response to Covid-19, the troops deployed in February to the Barkhane operation in sub-Saharan Africa will continue their tour for a further one or two months, the defense and foreign affairs committee of the French senate said April 10, following  appearance of armed forces minister Florence Parly by video.

There are an estimated 3,800 “probable or possible” virus cases among the services, with 369 confirmed by health tests, the senate committee said.

The deadly pandemic has claimed the lives of at least 13,832 in France, of which 4,889 were in retirement homes, afternoon daily Le Monde reported April 12. There were fewer deaths on a daily basis, with 353 deaths on Saturday compared to 554 on Friday.

The number of patients in intensive care was declining for the third day in a row, with 6,883 patients, 121 fewer than the previous day.

President Emmanuelle Macron was due to give a nationwide address on April 13 on the pandemic.

The lock down, which started March 17, is expected to be extended beyond April 15. The question is only how long, with debate on how the tight restrictions will eventually be dismantled.

Featured Photo: French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle cruises at the coast of Frederikshavn in Denmark on March 29. The carrier is returning to home port after suspected cases of COVID-19 were found aboard.

Henning Bagger/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images

Editor’s Note: Here is how some French citizens are viewing the French government approach to managing the crisis: