Prairial set sails from her home port in Tahiti, French Polynesia, on 15 January 2021 to deploy for mission AETO: The French contribution to the international embargo against North Korea to fight against nuclear proliferation.
Launched in January 2018, this system allows coordination between the eight participating States (United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, France) in the implementation of the maritime aspect of the United Nations resolutions against North Korea. In particular, this involves keeping watch of ship-to-ship transfers at sea (oil, coal, iron, etc.) bypassing the limitations imposed by UN resolutions 2375 and 2397.
The French frigate detected the suspected illegal activity on 28 February 2021.
Prairial previously took part in a tri-lateral replenishment-at-sea on 19 February and then called at Sasebo naval base in Japan. The base is frequently used by vessels participating in the monitoring of sanctions against North Korea. For coordination purposes, a French Navy liaison officer is permanently aboard US Navy’s 7th fleet flagship USS Blueridge.
France’s commitment to the implementation of UN Security Council sanctions
As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, France has a special duty to enforce its decisions. France has therefore decided to occasionally deploy military assets to North-East Asia for this purpose. The aim, in liaison with its partners, is to detect, document and discourage ship-to-ship transfers at sea. The information is collected and then passed on to the UN Panel of Experts on North Korea, helping identify activities contrary to resolutions, encourage the States concerned to take measures against the perpetrators and trigger inquiries by the Panel of Experts that could give rise to sanctions against the vessels concerned or the entities that make these activities possible.
For example, a Falcon 200 operated from Japan in March 2019 to monitor North Korean illegal maritime activities. In April 2019, Floréal-class frigate Vendémiaire was deployed to detect and record ship-to-ship transfers carried out off the coast by or for North Korea.
During its flights, the Falcon 200 mission identified some 20 cases of ship-to-ship transfers, some of which may have benefited North Korea. The mere presence of the Vendémiaire surveillance frigate proved to be a deterrent and led to several ship-to-ship transfers being abandoned suddenly. A vessel of interest, the tanker YUK TUNG, was observed on several occasions. This vessel is known for stealing the identity of other ships and using false names. It is suspected of acting as an intermediary in illegal activities for the direct benefit of North Korea. This case, which was directly observed by France, was reported to the UN Panel of Experts, which investigated the ship in its last report.
France’s Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs
These activities are a reminder to all that France is a reliable, committed military partner. This commitment is part of a shared desire to contribute to the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantling of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction and to work towards peace on the peninsula.
Update – 11/03/2021
Naval News contacted the office of the Joint Chief of Staffs of the French military (Cabinet du Chef d’état-major des armées – EMA) to try to learn more. Here is our Q&A:
Naval News – Which flags were the two tankers flying ?
EMA – The two merchant vessels observed had no visible flag. All of the information gathered will be sent to UN experts for analysis.
Naval News – Do the rules of engagement allow the dispatch of VBSS teals to board these type of vessels ? If so, why was it not the case this time around?
EMA – The vessels of the French Navy which contribute to this mission comply with the rules established in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLS).
Naval News – Is there a VBSS team currently aboard the Prairial? Are they crew members or FORUSCO (Fusiliers Marins / Commandos Marine) coming from metropolitan France?
EMA – We do not communicate on the operational capabilities embarked specifically on our combat vessels.
Naval News – Who is in command of the operation? The UN or one of the participating countries? (United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, France)
EMA – This is an operation to contribute to the international system for the fight against the circumvention of the sanctions established against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea by resolutions 1718, 2375 and 2397 of the United Nations Security Council. voted in 2006.