French Navy Sends Message With Long-Range Sub Patrol in S. China Sea

Émeraude meets up with the support ship Seine in the South China Sea (Florence Parly / Ministère des Armées)

Published Feb 10, 2021 4:58 PM by The Maritime Executive

The French attack submarine SSN Émeraude has conducted a rare surface patrol in the South China Sea, sending a message for France on freedom of navigation and the rule of law on the high seas. 

This "striking proof" of French naval capacity is intended to demonstrate ability to deploy for extended periods and work with France's partners, including Australia and the United States. Émeraude has been under way since September 2020, and she has transited all the way from France through the Indian Ocean and into the Pacific, with stopovers in Perth and Guam. 

The Émeraude was accompanied by the sub tender FS Seine and the frigate FS Vendemiaire

"Why such a mission? To enrich our knowledge of this area and to affirm that international law is the only rule that is valid, whatever the sea in which we sail," said French armed forces minister Florence Parly in a social media post. "[A] nation of the Indo-Pacific (two million inhabitants), France has the second-largest exclusive economic zone in the world . . . We intend to protect our sovereignty and our interests.”

Overseas France (France d'outre-mer), the name given the remaining outposts of France's colonial era, includes countless island holdings in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. Between Grande-Terre, Reunion, New Caledonia, Wallis and Fortuna, French Polynesia and other island territories, France's Indo-Pacific lands have an EEZ area totaling about 3.5 million square miles. 

Parly's announcement coincided with a rare U.S. Navy dual-carrier operation in the South China Sea. The carriers USS Nimitz, USS Theodore Roosevelt and their escorts conducted dual-carrier flight exercises at an undisclosed "highly trafficked area" in the region on Tuesday, "[showing] our partners and allies in the region that we are committed to promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific," according to Rear Adm. Doug Verissimo (USN), commander of Carrier Strike Group 9.