France hands first ‘ex-Russian’ Mistral ship to Egypt

© Stephane Mahe
Egypt’s flag has been raised over the first Mistral amphibious assault ship, which Cairo has purchased from France. Originating from a severed Moscow-Paris contract, the ship and its twin are equipped with Russian electronics.

The warship has been named ENS Gamal Abdel Nasser after Egypt's second president (1954-1970). From the moment it flew Egyptian colors it officially entered the Egypt’s Navy, even though the ceremony was still taking place in Saint-Nazaire, western France.

"We now have advanced capabilities in confronting terrorism within our borders and on our shores," Minister of Defense Sedky Sobhi said at the ceremony.

“The helicopter carrier has been formally handed over to Egypt. Next week it will leave the port and set course towards its final destination,” the spokesman for the DCNS naval defense industrial group, Emmanuel Gaudez, also said as cited by TASS news agency.

The second similar vessel obtained by Cairo from Paris will head to Egypt in late September. The DCNS spokesman ducked the issue of contract value.

“It remains a commercial secret,” Gaudez said. Last year unconfirmed reports claimed the vessels were sold for €950 million (US$1.06 billion).

The Mistral-class ships, dubbed the ‘Swiss Army knife’ for their versatility, host up to 16 helicopters, up to 70 armored vehicles and 450 Marines.

Both the ships were initially constructed for, and partly in, Russia as part of a contract signed in 2011.

When the first ship was ready in 2014 and the crew was already on board mastering the vessel’s equipment, France froze ship’s delivery. Paris explained the withdrawal by Russia’s alleged participation in the developments in eastern Ukraine.

READ MORE: Egypt wants Russian electronic equipment for Mistral carrier

Following long and thorny negotiations, Paris agreed to return Moscow €949 million and Russian military electronic equipment already installed.

In September 2015, it was announced that Egypt would buy both Mistral ships from France. In April, military sources told TASS that the Egyptian military asked Russia to supply electronic systems for the helicopter carriers.