Asian cadet brings aid home aboard French ship

13th January 2005, Comments 0 comments

ON BOARD THE JEANNE D'ARC, Jan 13 () - When he began training in December aboard the French naval ship Jeanne d'Arc, Sandy Kurniawan had no idea his mission would bring him back to his native Indonesia.

ON BOARD THE JEANNE D'ARC, Jan 13 () - When he began training in December aboard the French naval ship Jeanne d'Arc, Sandy Kurniawan had no idea his mission would bring him back to his native Indonesia.

Kurniawan is one of 25 foreign officer cadets aboard the helicopter carrier, which takes to the seas each year to train future naval officers in their trade.

But this year its mission radically changed following the December 26 earthquake and tsunamis that devastated Indian Ocean countries.

France sent the Jeanne d'Arc and the frigate George Leygues to bring aid to one of the worst-hit parts of Indonesia, the northwest tip of Sumatra island, where the town of Meulaboh was flattened by the wall of water that crashed into Indian Ocean coastlines and killed more than 159,000 people.

The ships, which are expected to arrive in Sumatra on Friday, have medical teams including the Jeanne d'Arc's 16 doctors, an operating theatre and five helicopters.

Born 27 years ago on the island of Java, Kurniawan said "since I was a child it has been my dream to make a career in the navy".

"Indonesia is an immense archipelago and I dreamed of travelling by sea on what was a maritime kingdom before independence," the graduate of Surabaya naval academy explained, still wearing the uniform of the Indonesian navy.

When the tsunamis struck, Kurniawan's ship was docked in Djibouti in east Africa, the second port of call after months of learning the rudiments of military seafaring aboard his floating university.

"When I learned that the tidal wave had crashed into Indonesia, I was on the ship accompanying the Jeanne, the Georges Leygues, he said.

"I looked at the television and I understood that this was very serious, especially after calling my family and another officer who lost his grandparents in Aceh."

His berth-mates, a German officer cadet and seven French cadets, were very sympathetic, he said, asking him daily about his family as the Jeanne remained in port.

But then France decided at the start of January to send the ship to Indonesia and Kurniawan's days, once filled with courses in naval theory and stints on the bridge, took on a sense of urgency.

As the Jeanne steamed towards Indonesia Kurniawan was put to work compiling lists of Indonesian words that will come in useful to those disembarking when it arrives.

"He helps us analyse the situation and our contacts with the Indonesian authorities. He will be our liaison officer," said Christophe Bergey, head of public relations aboard the Jeanne.

"We are preparing for the worst."

Despite demands by the Indonesian government that foreign military aid missions complete their work as quickly as possible, Captain Marc de Briancom said his orders had not changed.

"They have communicated nothing to us and we continue to travel towards Indonesia," he told AFP Wednesday.

But Indonesian authorities have yet to let either ship know exactly where it should pull into port, said Commander Stephan Geble.

"We don't have any notion of the precise location of our intervention," he said. "We'll leave it up to the Indonesians to tell us to go to such and such a place."

© AFP

Subject: French News

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