By Tom Little.
Tripoli, 17 December:
The captain of a visiting French warship spoke of his gladness today at returning to Libya for . . .[restrict]the first time since taking part in the campaign against Qaddafi last year.
Captain Olivier de Saint-Julien of the frigate Aconit was in Tripoli for a three-day port call, where he met Libyan navy commander Hassan Boushnak.
Saint Julien took part in NATO’s campaign on the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle.
While he had taken been on active service many times before, he said that “taking part in the support of the population of Benghazi in liberating Benghazi, there was an emotional factor that motivated me”.
“We knew we were witnessing a new era,” the officer told the Libya Herald aboard the Aconit.
He was recalled to France during the operation to take command of the frigate Aconit in Toulon, which had itself just returned from active service in the Gulf of Sirte.
“The Aconit cruised off the Libyan coast for several long weeks, ready to extract the French ambassador if Qaddafi loyalists ever got to Benghazi,” Saint-Julien said.
A crack team of navy commandos on board were on standby to rescue the French representative to the National Transitional Council if Benghazi had fallen, he explained.
Given Saint-Julien and his crew’s link with Libya, he said he was very happy to have been able to set foot in Tripoli this time, and his crew had visited Qaddafi’s ruined Bab Al-Aziziyah compound and the old city.
The sailors had even found time to play a football match against a team in Tripoli, and were enthused by the experience in spite of the 5-1 drubbing they received at the hands of the locals.
“I hope to return another time to explore the country properly and to get a better idea of what it’s like,” he said.
However, the visit was also intended as a sign of France’s desire to build bridges with the Libyan navy, and Saint-Julien held talks with Admiral Boushnak and other senior Libyan naval officers.
It had been agreed that two Libyan officers would accompany the Aconit back to port in Toulon today to learn more about navigation and, crucially, boarding procedures, “as the Libyan navy is particularly concerned with illegal fishing in its waters,” Saint-Julien said.
The Libyan delegation also expressed an interest in French technology as it looks to rebuild its shattered fleet, but Saint-Julien could not say whether they would be looking to buy naval hardware from France.
“They want the technology that will best meet their needs,” he said. “But they haven’t said that it will be French.” [/restrict]