PORTRAIT. Jean-François Deligeard, superhero of the seas

Romain Boisaubert/Monaco-Tribune

Monaco Tribune went to meet Jean-François Deligeard, an emblematic member of the Monaco Maritime Police. Portrait of an accomplished coastguard, diving specialist, sports and travel enthusiast.

A legend with 1200 dives to his name, he’s about to hoist the sails. Soon to be 58 years old and after thirty-two years in the maritime police, a record in Monaco, Jean-François Deligeard will hand in his uniform in March 2022, for a well-deserved retirement. “I’m going to have a little pang in my heart when I leave, definitely… sighs the most senior member of the Monegasque maritime police. “But I’m happy to leave. Thirty-six years in the police force is not bad after all,” he concludes with a smile.

I swam out to get him, we gave everything, we tried to resuscitate him, but it was already too late.

It must be said that the native of Saint-Denis in the Paris region has spared no effort during the years he has spent in the Principality. Growing up in Auvergne, in the land of dormant volcanoes, Jean-François Deligeard arrived at le Rocher and the Monegasque police force at the age of 22, with a State Diploma in Sports Education in hand.

“After four months of training, I was thrown into the deep end, on the streets.” Before that first encounter with fate. “I did my first summer season on Larvotto beach. The instructor decided to train us to dive, offering us baptisms. That’s when they saw my profile.” Deemed adept, the former swimmer who played in the first team of the AS Monaco Handball was quickly picked up. A vocation was born.

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Unforgettable operations

On June 26, 1989, at the age of 26, Jean-François Deligeard officially joined the Maritime Police of Monaco. It was the beginning of a great adventure, marked by many unforgettable rescues and tragedies, sometimes striking. Where frustration and injustice plague you for weeks on end. “I remember an operation with a fifteen year old teenager who had drowned off Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. I swam out to get him, we gave everything, we tried to resuscitate him, but it was already too late. Emotionally, when that happens to young people, it’s even more difficult.”

A woman threw herself off the Fontvieille seawall and begged me to let her die whilst insulting me.

Jean-François Deligeard has carried out many operations during his thirty-two years in the maritime police. Sinking boats, vessels in flames, grounded helicopters or lost paragliders. And if the endings are sometimes happy, such as when, as Deligeard recounts, “a woman who threw herself off the Fontvieille seawall begged me to let her die whilst insulting me”, was finally recovered safe and sound, some incidents are more chilling.

The Maritime Police Monaco patrol boat, Princess Gabriella

Just a few weeks after joining the coast guard, the man with 1200 dives had to deal with his first delicate operation. A diver was trapped in a cave in Cap d’Ail, on Mala beach,” he says. Unfortunately, when I went to get him in the early morning, he was already dead. Retrieving a father at twenty-seven years old, I’ll never forget that.”

During his last operation, a few days before meeting us, Jean-François Deligeard and his six feet, three inches saved a woman who had fainted on her boat, off Monaco. Called in whilst he was at home with his family in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, the usual coxswain took the place of second in command for the occasion. A sort of passing of the torch.

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Ready for a new lease on life

“I tried to pass on everything I learned before retiring.” Within the Monaco Maritime Police, his son, Julien (32), follows in his father’s footsteps. “We try not to cross paths too much, to avoid emotions coming into play during operations. But it’s a pleasure to work alongside your son.” His daughter, Léa (28), also recently joined the Monegasque police force.

I feel best in the wilderness.

A generational passion, which will allow Jean-François Deligeard to live the exploits of his children, he who does not imagine retirement as a regret, but as a unique chance to enjoy his leisure time. “I will continue to train and swim,” smiles this triathlon enthusiast, who lined up at the mythical New York, Berlin and Nice triathlons. I’ve also started playing guitar, and I’m thinking of getting back into that, as well as photography.”

Through numerous trips and hikes, the Monegasque by adoption likes to be in harmony with nature. Far from the permanent restlessness of the cities, he likes above all to remember his native Auvergne.

“This half-city, half-rural childhood allowed me to mature and learn a lot about living between two completely opposing worlds. But in the end, I feel best in the wilderness.” A way of philosophising about his life, and his career, which Isabelle Castelli, head of the marine police division, already regrets. “Jean-François? We’ll miss him, for sure. It’ll be difficult to find someone like him, so professional, so competent and so reliable in his missions.”

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