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The frigate Leopold I is (already!) going back to sea. Destination Baltic Sea for an exercise

(B2) The Belgian frigate Léopold I left its naval base in Zeebrugge this Monday (May 18) for a month-long exercise in the Baltic Sea. Not entirely innocuous departure

Departure of Leopold I towards the Baltic (credit: MOD Belgium)

An exercise with the Dutch

This exercise, called Baltic Breeze 20, is organized by a squadron of Dutch ships. It includes two command and landing ships, two frigates, a patrol boat and a submarine.

Three objectives are announced: 1° to develop the interaction between the frigate and the NFH 90 helicopter (as part of the qualification of a pilot) and its support team; 2° carry out precision shots using its 76mm OTO Melara cannon as well as its Goalkeeper; 3° train “ realistically » for submarine hunting, as well as testing procedures for launching an exercise torpedo. As usual, the crew will also train in all the ritual exercises (abandoning ship, man overboard, fighting damage and fires, etc.).

Confinement before departure and anti-Covid-19 test

Before being able to leave for exercise, the frigate's crew underwent a detection and quarantine program, now almost systematic for departures on missions or operations. First, the frigate's personnel had to respond to a telephone questionnaire 14 days before the start of the campaign. From that moment on, all sailors had to remain confined at home while awaiting their departure for Zeebrugge. Secondly, five days before departure, everyone underwent a Covid-19 screening test, as well as a blood test. Third, on the day of departure, another medical check, this time at the naval base infirmary by the staff of the 14 Medical Battalion. Finally, on board the ship, the general rules and social distancing measures remain in force: wearing a mask, training in small groups, staggered meals, etc.

Comment: an effective tactic?

We remember that the Belgian frigate had interrupted its escort of the French aircraft carrier Charles-de-Gaulle, because a case of coronavirus had been detected on board. The first reaction might have been to sneer at what appeared to be a “defection.” It is clear today that the Belgian tactics, although modest, were the right ones, as we anticipated (read: Covid-19. Did Belgium make the right choice by interrupting the Foch mission in time?).

In less than two months, almost to the day, the Belgian navy regained its full operational capacity. This is not the case for the French who persisted, despite everything, in remaining active with the Charles de Gaulle (read: Return to port for the Charles-de-Gaulle aircraft carrier, contaminated by the pandemic). And they don't seem ready to recover. Not before the fall, we are told.

Very strangely, the summary of the command investigation drawn up by the General Staff of the Armed Forces - as published by the official communication from the Minister of the Armed Forces (1) - at no time mentions the announcement by the Belgians with a case of coronavirus. Weird. Very strange even. Could it be that it involves not just the medical service or the pasha of the ship - whose investigation reveals 'dysfunctions', but the higher, more political level?

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

  1. Download the report summary and l'epidemiological investigation. This latest report is much more interesting, both in terms of the progress of the epidemic and in general. The infographics and the presentation in the general context in particular should be looked at carefully.

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

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