The French frigate Prairial is set to dock for five days from March 24-28 at the Sihanoukville port to strengthen the bonds of friendships between the two nations’ navies.

The ship is a Floreal-class frigate, built in France, that entered into service in 1993. It is stationed in the Pacific and typically undertakes routine patrol duties in the region.

In a March 22 press release, the French embassy in Cambodia said that after having carried out long missions at sea, docking would be an opportunity to show the bonds of friendship between the two navies. Prairial docked at the port in 2016, but the scheduled docking in 2020-2021 could not take place due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“So, the visit of the French frigate Prairial marks another sign of good relations between the two countries,” the press release read.

The Papeete-based Prairial is part of the French naval forces in French Polynesia. The ship is commanded by Admiral Geoffroy d’Andigne and fulfils missions such as protecting the French exclusive economic zone and providing assistance to mariners.

According to the embassy, the ship measures 94m and has around 100 crew members as well as a Dauphin helicopter. In general, the ship participates in operations to combat illegal fishing in international waters and the exclusive economic zones of French territories in the Pacific ocean.

The ship carries out patrol missions on a regular basis in the Pacific region to underscore France’s adherence to respect for international law and to uphold freedom of navigation in the region.

The ship cooperates regularly with the navies of ASEAN members, South Korea and Japan to strengthen joint operations with the navies of partner countries. Previously, the ship was part of military exercises held with the Philippines Coast Guard.

“In Cambodia, the docking will be an opportunity to exchange experiences, especially between the two navies through strategy meetings and football matches,” said the embassy.

The docking of the Prairial took place within the framework of France’s strategy in the Indo-Pacific region. France holds sovereign territory in the Indo-Pacific with seven territories, and the region is home to 1.6 million French citizens and 7,000 soldiers.

Ninety-three per cent of France’s exclusive economic zones, in the form of the waters around French island territories, are in the Indo-Pacific region, according to the press release.

It said France’s commitment to the region is reflected in four major areas: Security and protection; economics; multilateralism and the rule of law; and climate change and sustainable ocean management.

The embassy said the docking of the Prairial reflects the enhancement of French-Cambodian relations through years of high-level visits and exchanges, and is the outcome of strengthening partnerships between France and ASEAN.

France is an observer country in two working groups of the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM-Plus), including the working group in charge of marine security.

“This is in recognition of France’s efforts for regional security and support for the general security process where ASEAN is central,” it said.

Ministry of National Defence spokesman Chhum Socheat could not be reached for comment on March 22.

Yang Peou, secretary-general of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said the presence of the French ship in the region and in the Indo-Pacific is normal as France also has territory in the Indo-Pacific space.

He said this also demonstrates that Cambodia is true to its word that it welcomes all countries and navies to dock at Sihanoukville port, including those from the US, UK, Australia and countries allied to them like France.

“Cambodia has provided the same cooperation without discrimination against anyone. So, this place proves that Cambodia does not discriminate in international relations and bilateral relations alike. It is not like certain opposition groups who say that Cambodia is only embracing China,” he told The Post on March 22.

“In contrast to that, Cambodia has actually expanded international cooperation with all countries in every region and continent to develop relations and gain further international recognition without discriminating against any countries,” he added.