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French frigate docks in Montreal ahead of Remembrance Day ceremonies

MONTREAL — After taking part in anti-ISIL missions and a multinational training excercise, a French warship has docked in Montreal for what may be a less onerous mission: joining the city's Remembrance Day ceremonies. 

The 153-metre, 7,000-tonne aerial defence warship "Forbin" sailed up from Norfolk, Va., where it recently participated in the U.S.-led "Bold Alligator" training exercise along with vessels from the United States, Canada and Mexico. 

Thomas Fraioli, the ship's captain, said some 60 crew members will join Saturday's ceremony as a way of highlighting the long military history between the two countries.

"We had the opportunity to come celebrate Nov. 11, which is very important in France and is celebrated every year by celebrating the participation of Canadian forces during the First World War," he said in an interview.

On Friday, the ship's crew played host to journalists and photographers to mark the beginning of the five-day visit to Montreal.

"Duck your head, lift your feet," was the advice given to visitors as they navigated the destroyer's steep metal staircases, narrow passages and windy decks.

Fraioli described the ship as a "multi-task destroyer" whose main job is to protect aircraft carriers from threats and identify whether incoming aircraft are friendly or hostile.

In the case of an aerial attack, the ship would lead the anti-air warfare by using its own missiles or by ordering another escort ship to fire.

It was commissioned in 2009 and cost about one billion euros, Fraioli said.

For five months beginning at the end of 2016, the destroyer was deployed in anti-ISIL operations, in the eastern Mediterranean and the Arabian Gulf, where it accompanied first a French aircraft carrier and then an American one, the USS George H.W. Bush.

Lt.-Cmdr. Jacques, the ship's combat systems expert, said the vessel's job consisted mostly of keeping track of Russian and Iranian activity in the area to maintain enough space between the two countries' forces.

They were responsible as well for ensuring the safety of the ship carrying the American planes flying missions against ISIL, also known as Daesh.

Whatever the mission, life on the ship follows a familiar routine of cleaning, training, drills, meals, briefings, and guard duty, Fraioli said.

He calls it a "battle rhythm."

"When you're in operation, people are doing watches, it's 24-hour watch," he said. "It's about watching what's outside and being ready to intervene."

While the crew is honoured to take part in Montreal's Remembrance Day ceremonies, Fraioli admitted Friday's -5 C temperature was a bit of a shock for the crew, who have spent much of the last year in warmer waters.

"We're not at all used to it, we don't have the right clothes at all," he admitted with a laugh.

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

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