French carrier heads home one day into Afghan mission

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A technical fault has forced France's flagship and only aircraft carrier to return to port less than a day after it set off to fight piracy and terrorism in the Indian Ocean, the navy said Thursday.

Naval spokesman Captain Hugues d'Argentre said the nuclear-powered Charles de Gaulle would be back in its home port of Toulon later in the day and it would take a few days to carry out the necessary repairs.

"A fault was found in the insulation of an electrical cabinet in the propulsion system," the officer said.

The Charles de Gaulle and its escort group -- two frigates, an attack submarine and a refuelling tanker -- set sail from Toulon on Wednesday and had been due to spend four months patrolling the Indian Ocean.

France is the only country apart from the United States to operate a full size nuclear-powered carrier capable of launching fixed-wing jets, but the ship has been plagued with technical problems since it was launched in 1994.

In November 2000 the Charles de Gaulle limped back to port after one of its huge propellers snapped off in mid-Atlantic, and between July 2007 and December 2008 it was taken out of service for a major refit.

In all, the battle group carries 3,000 sailors and 27 aircraft: 10 Rafale F3 fighters, 12 Super Etendard attack jets, two Hawkeye early warning planes and three helicopters.

Rear Admiral Jean-Louis Kerignard, commander of the group, said the force would help allied navies fight piracy off the coast of Somalia and send attack jets to support NATO troops fighting insurgents in Afghanistan.

The ships will also train alongside allies from Saudi Arabia, India, Italy, Greece and the United Arab Emirates and make two stopovers at the French base in Djibouti before returning to France in February 2011.

© 2010 AFP

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