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French replica of US war of independence ship Hermione sets sail to retrace historic Atlantic voyage

A replica of the French warship that carried the Marquis de Lafayette to help American revolutionaries in the war of independence has set sail for the US. It received a huge send-off.

Thousands of people gathered on Saturday in Ile d'Aix in southwest France to bid farewell to the new Hermione, which cost 25 million euros ($27 million) to build.

Ahead of its departure on Saturday evening, French President Francois Hollande paid a brief visit to the ship, which is to sail across the Atlantic with a mainly volunteer crew of some 80 people.

"The Hermione is a glorious page of our history... thus was sealed one of the finest alliances, a fraternal alliance, " Hollande said.

The US consul in Bordeaux, Thomas Wolf, also read out a statement in French from President Barack Obama, in which Obama spoke of the "unwavering friendship and solidarity between the two countries."

Foundation of friendship

The original Hermione crossed the Atlantic in 1780 with General Lafayette on board, who was to tell his friend George Washington, the commander of American colonists rising up against British imperial rule, that France would provide military and financial support to the revolutionaries.

Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Mortier, Marquis de La Fayette Lithograph, Paris, 1832

Lafayette became known as 'our Marquis' to the revolutionaries

Lafayette and his forces later played an important role in the revolutionaries' ultimate defeat of Britain, laying the foundation of Franco-American relations to this day.

The replica of the Hermione,

which has taken nearly two decades to design and build, is to make a first scheduled stop in the Canary Islands on its way to the eastern coast of the United States, where it is due to arrive in Yorktown on June 5.

The 65-meter (213-foot) frigate will then take a two-month tour of key sites of the American Revolution, including Annapolis, Boston, Philadelphia and New York City.

Both the historical and the modern ship were built in the same shipyard, in Rochefort in southwest France, but the original Hermione was constructed in a mere six months.

Ups and downs

France and the United States confirmed their alliance in 1876 with the inauguration of the Statue of Liberty at the entrance to New York harbor. The now world-famous landmark was a gift from the French people in commemoration of the centenary of the declaration of independence.

However, relations between the two countries have sometimes been fraught since then. French opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 led to a temporary cooling of ties, while more recently France yielded to US pressure after initial resistance, and delayed delivering a helicopter-carrying warship to Moscow over the Ukraine crisis.

tj/bk (Reuters, AFP)

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