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Government action at sea
The Secretariat General of the Sea (attached to the Prime Minister’s office)
The Secretariat General of the Sea has interministerial responsibility for the monitoring, evaluation and long-term planning of maritime policy. It is involved in mapping out public policies regarding the sea and coastline and co-ordinates government action at sea through the Maritime Prefects. It is attached to the Prime Minister’s office and also serves the minister with responsibility for the sea in matters concerning him.
France has set up a Coastguard Operational Centre (CoFGC), which functions as an interministerial body. Reporting to the General Secretariat of the Sea, the CoFGC keeps a permanent watch on maritime events, reports on the global maritime situation, contributes to maritime crisis monitoring at central level and carries out analyses aimed at proposing organisational changes to the Coastguard system. The CoFGC is one of the natural points of contact for the centres of others States or of European and international institutions providing similar services. Located in the heart of Paris, it is based at and supported by the headquarters of the French Navy.
The Maritime Prefect
Under the decree of 6 February 2004 on government maritime related operations known as l’Action de l’État en Mer (AEM), the Maritime Prefect, who is a government delegate and direct representative of the Prime Minister and of each minister, is vested with State authority over all areas covered by the AEM.
With powers of coordination in a crisis situation, he is today the chief authority in all maritime spheres, notably in defending the sovereign rights and interests of the nation, maintaining public order and protecting people and property. He has the resources of the French Navy (Marine nationale) at his disposal, as well as those of the Maritime Gendarmerie, the Department of Maritime Affairs (DAMGA), Customs, Civil Defence and the assistance of the Société Nationale de Sauvetage en Mer .
The Maritime Gendarmerie is a specially trained division of the national gendarmerie, placed under the Chief of Staff of the French Navy. It is stationed along the entire French coast (including the overseas territories), on French naval bases and in some large civil ports.
It carries out its general policing functions under the authority of the Maritime Prefect (environmental protection, policing of fisheries and shipping, port security, rescue and assistance of people and property), and its criminal investigation functions under the control of the Public Prosecutor (all
forms of illicit trafficking, illegal immigration, pollution). With a complement of 1,100 servicemen distributed in 3 groups, 8 companies and 70 units, its remit extends up to 200 nautical miles offshore. It operates 25 coastal maritime surveillance launches, 8 coastal patrol boats and 5 sea and harbour security launches. It is always introducing new units to protect the approaches and inner waterways of some ports of vital importance (Le Havre 2006, Marseille 2009, Dunkirk then Montoir-de-Bretagne).
Customs and Excise (Direction générale des douanes et des droits indirects)
The action of Customs helps to prevent illegal activities at sea, notably smuggling and illicit trafficking of goods and people.
Its functions also include navigation control, coastal surveillance, protection of the marine environment (marine pollution prevention), control of the legal status of ships and protecting and assisting people in distress.
Customs, with 17,800 agents (37% female) including 600 seagoing personnel, has 2 coastguard cutters of 43 m, 19 coastguard launches of 19 to 32 m, 16 inshore surveillance craft of 10 to 14 m, 3 training vessels, 17 aircraft including 2 fitted with a remote marine pollution detection system (POLMAR) and 7 helicopters.
La Marine Nationale
France has the sixth largest navy in the world by tonnage and the second largest in deep-sea capabilities.
The wide spectrum of missions that the French Navy is called upon to perform lie within the national security strategy set out in the White Book. This strategy is defined in response to the international geo-strategic situation, its risks and foreseeable threats.
Apart from the notable exception of nuclear deterrence, the nature of the Navy’s main tasks in direct defence of the national territory have not changed fundamentally for many years, i.e. using the marine environment to best advantage to defend the French people and French interests while preventing encroachment by adversaries.
The wide range and diversity of missions confirmed in the White Book require a "balanced" fleet, made up of facilities that complement and cooperate naturally with each other: large surface vessels (powerful and able to withstand harsh conditions, but expensive and few in number), capable of heading off all hegemonic threats, general purpose vessels (more vulnerable but capable of "occupying" the sea without seeking to engage), submarines (powerful and discrete), aircraft (complementing vessel endurance with the long reach of air support), and naval commandos (for inspections, security checks, etc.).
The nation’s security and interests:
Deterrence from the sea
The backbone of French nuclear deterrence, the Strategic Ocean Task Force (FOST) has submarines capable of launching ballistic missiles always on patrol.
The Navy’s nuclear air arm (FANU) is the second naval component, less powerful but more flexible and more ostentatious. Complementary to the Strategic Air Command (FAS), it exploits the flexibility of the aircraft carrier in positioning capability and as a display of strength.
Protection against sea-borne risks and threats
"Sauveguarde maritime" or maritime protection concerns the national territory and its interests. These interests include prevention, dealing with military threats at sea (intrusion*, espionage, etc.), ecological interests (pollution, destruction of our marine heritage, etc.), economic interests (over-fishing, plundering of marine resources, etc.), historical issues (explosives left behind from past wars) and now "societal" issues (drug and arms trafficking, immigration, terrorism, etc.). On top of all of these missions, the French Navy is involved in sea rescue and assistance.
These actions take place on the high seas, so that threats can be dealt with close to their source and away from French territory, in the sea approaches, an area of intense coordinated action by the sea and air resources of the various administrations involved, and in the coastal fringe under the surveillance of a chain of shipping monitoring systems and the maritime gendarmerie.
Protecting sea trade
The White Book on national defence and security has highlighted sea trade as a major vulnerability in European countries. Any disruption has a direct effect on the security, interests, and even the way of life of all French people.
Protecting sea routes involves protecting the French flagged merchant fleet and the free circulation of all flows of goods transported lawfully on the oceans against threats from states or others (pirates, organised criminal gangs, etc): 40% of all pirates captured in the Indian Ocean in 2009. On-board security teams are deployed on some French vessels such as tuna boats off the Horn of Africa.
Defending national interests, respecting alliances and engaging in international action
The Navy also participates in the indirect strategy of defending national interests by maintaining France’s international influence and status through its diplomatic channels, alliances and external interventions.
The Navy’s contribution to French diplomacy
In the delicate game of international relations, the choice of zones of deployment and ports of call in other countries helps to maintain France’s standing in the concert of nations and enables the government to put its messages across.
The small mobile piece of national territory represented by a warship can act in support of a range of activities such as official visits, as discrete locations for discussions, military equipment demonstrations, civil and military cooperation and delivery of humanitarian aid. Courtesy calls provide an opportunity to improve knowledge of theatres and to develop dependable operational support bases.
When diplomacy is not enough to resolve a crisis, it can be supported by the use of force, gradually to keep the destructive effects of battles to an absolute minimum and always leave the door open for a resumption of political negotiations.
Ease of deployment often make warships and their shipborne aircraft the first to enter a theatre of operations for a wide spectrum of reversible actions: from reducing the threat to an acceptable level and providing support for advance landing forces to controlling port and airport infrastructure. In this situation, the fleet air arm based on an aircraft carrier is a key asset.
Application of the technical standards and operational procedures of the Atlantic Alliance guarantees a high level of interoperability, and therefore an excellent integration capability down to the level of ship and aircraft parts.
Operation HARMATTAN in Libya illustrated the decisive place of the French Navy in France’s global military strategy. From March to September 2011, 27 ships were engaged in applying UN Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973.
Operations summed up in figures (2011)
• days at sea : 10 500
The Maritime Affairs Administration
The Department of Maritime Affairs (DAM), an official government department within the General Directorate of Infrastructures, Transport and the Sea of the Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy (MEDDE), formulates and implements government policies and laws on a range of issues relating to sailors and their profession, such as training, health and employment law, as well as ship safety and security, shipping surveillance and maritime signalling, and control of maritime activities, the merchant fleet, yachting and nautical leisure activities.
The Department of Maritime Affairs is supported by a network of Interregional Directorates for the Sea (DIRM), which operate along the seaboard to ensure that the government's maritime policies are applied in a coherent and integrated manner. At county level, the sea and coastal agencies (DML) within the county land and sea directorates (DDTM) implement these policies. These services, at the heart of the maritime sector, have the traditional responsibilities of ship safety, the health and welfare of seamen, vocational training, etc. as well as those of surveillance and control (fisheries policing, ship movement surveillance, search, rescue and assistance at sea, pollution monitoring and reporting). They also have a pivotal role in new measures such as the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and marine spatial planning.
The system of control and surveillance consists of ocean going vessels (two patrol boats of 46 and 52 metres based in France and a third of 54 metres at La Réunion; 3 regional cutters) and 60 smaller vessels spread over 21 coastal units. These units are deployed mainly on fisheries protection, coordinated by the National Fisheries Protection Centre (CNSP), and environmental policing duties at sea under the aegis, on a trial basis, of the Marine Environment Surveillance Operational Centre (COSMM).
2,000 maritime affairs agents are distributed on the coast in the branch offices, in the 7 CROSS (regional operational surveillance and rescue centers) and 2 MRCC (maritime rescue coordination centers), as well as in the 16 CSN (ship safety centres) responsible for vessel inspections.
The maritime affairs administration provides the following specialised services:
Aids to Navigation: lighthouses, marker buoys and beacons
The system of aids to navigation on the coasts of France and its overseas territories comprises around 6,500 maritime signalling establishments and devices (lighthouses, light towers, marker buoys, etc.). This service is responsible for providing and maintaining a beaconing system enabling navigators to locate their position and avoid hazards.
Safety, surveillance, search and rescue: CROSS
The 7 regional operational search and rescue centers (CROSS) use the naval and air resources of the administrations and bodies engaged in Government Action at Sea.
The 2 MRCC (Maritime Rescue Coordination Centers) in Papeete and Nouméa complete the system, enabling France to fulfil its life-saving obligations in the immense areas of the Pacific under its responsibility. As part of the plan to introduce the Community maritime traffic monitoring and information system, DAM has introduced the TRAFIC 2000 system, the national entry and exit point to the European Union's network SafeSeaNet.
TRAFIC 2000 is also associated with the French Navy's SPATIONAV programme, which monitors sea traffic by AIS (automatic identification system) off French coasts.
CROSS centres also have operational responsibility for the sea pollution surveillance system CleanSeaNet and the European Long Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT) data centre established by EMSA.
In more general terms, the Department of Maritime Affairs is making a special effort to develop its information systems, to enable the CROSS's, the maritime safety centres and the maritime signalling services to fulfil their missions of search and rescue at sea, supervising sea traffic and hazardous goods, monitoring pollution, tracking ships and overseeing maritime signalling establishments.
The management and quality system of the ship safety inspection services and the 5 mainland CROSS's are ISO 9001/2008 certified.
Together with the Navy, the merchant navy, the fishing fleet, pleasure craft, and inshore service craft, the SNSM (see below) is the "6th component" of France’s "navies". Although not under direct State control, it does play a key role in public safety.
SNSM is a "Public Utility" established under the French law of associations of 1901.
It operates on the basis of volunteers committed to saving life at sea. Around 30% of its budget of € 22 M comes from State subsidies and 70% from private donations.
The SNSM fleet is made up of 230 lifeboats and over 400 rigid inflatable boats operated by:
• 4,400 permanent volunteer crewmen,
• 1,200 permanent administrative volunteers,
• 1,400 summer lifeguards on beaches,
and more than 50 employees working mostly in the Paris headquarters.
SNSM has a very close-knit network of 221 maritime stations in France and the overseas territories (with over 180 units offering a 24-hour search and rescue service) plus 32 Lifeguard Training Centres training over 500 new lifeguards every year. The results speak for themselves: over 50% of life-saving operations in Metropolitan France is carried out by the SNSM, 27% of these at night!
If the French Volunteer Lifesaving Association, SNSM, did not exist, the number of victims at sea would be five times higher!haut de page