Russian sailors arrive aboard the Smolny on Monday in Saint-Nazaire, western France, to begin training on the Vladivostok, a Mistral-class ship. (JEAN-SEBASTIEN EVRARD/ / AFP/Getty Images)
PARIS — Some 400 Russian sailors arrived on Monday at Saint-Nazaire dockyard to begin training on the Mistral-class helicopter carrier built for the Russian Navy, an industry executive said.
“They have arrived as expected,” the executive said.
French media widely reported the controversial arrival of Russian personnel, which was planned for the start of June and then delayed.
French tugs towed the Russian training ship Smolny, which carried the sailors, into the harbor a little after 7 a.m., Agence France-Presse reported.
Some 50 pro-Ukraine protestors demonstrated on Sunday against France’s naval deal with Russia, with one of the banners saying, “[President François] Hollande, France’s honor is worth more than the Mistral,” the news agency reported.
The training will last four months, the executive said. The first part consists of getting to know the vessel while docked in the port, with a second phase of sailing to come later.
The 400 sailors will form the two crews for the two carriers built for the Russian Navy. Prime contractor DCNS designed the Mistral, with STX building the vessels and DCI handling the training at sea.
The French government has said a decision on whether to hand over the first vessel, Vladivostok, will be made in October when delivery is due. The second ship is under construction and is due to be delivered next year. Russia bought the two ships under a 2011 contract worth €1.2 billion (US $1.6 billion), with options for two more units. ■